September 25, 2006, 1:53 pm
From the Clerk-Register: Justice Courts. Today's message to my
Today's New York Times has a front-page story, based on a year-long
Bench: In Tiny Courts of N.Y., Abuses of Law and Power.
The article documents the problems with New York State's system of
"justice courts", conducted by Justices of the Peace in every township of
the state. Most of the justices are not lawyers, and many seem to have no
idea of legal principles or procedure. The authors write:
The examination found overwhelming evidence that decade
after decade and up to this day, people have often been denied fundamental
legal rights. Defendants have been jailed illegally. Others have been
subjected to racial and sexual bigotry so explicit it seems to come from
some other place and time. People have been denied the right to a trial,
an impartial judge and the presumption of innocence.
The article gives many examples of all these things.
Michigan, too, had justices of the peace until the 1960s. Most
townships elected four justices on the partisan ballot; they held voting
seats on the township board. Just as in New York, few were lawyers.
They heard misdemeanor cases and small civil suits. They were paid from
the fines or fees they imposed. And some of the justice they dispensed
wasn't very good.
The story about how JOPs were abolished has a lot to do with a little
town called Webberville, in Ingham County's Leroy Township.
Webberville's main street, Grand River Avenue, was then U.S. Highway 16,
the main road from Detroit to Lansing before I-96 was built.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, Webberville's main industry was its speed
trap. Practically anyone who drove into Webberville unawares was stopped,
hauled off to a Leroy Township justice of the peace, and fined. The four
justices made a lot of money.
In 1961-62, a state constitutional convention was held in East Lansing.
All the Con-Con delegates from Southeast Michigan had to drive through
Webberville to get there.
No surprise that the constitution they wrote — still in effect
today — not only abolished JOPs, but required all judges to be
lawyers, and prohibited them from being paid the fines they imposed.
JOPs and other municipal courts were replaced with district courts.
I hope that New York, at long last, can find its way to the kind of
solution Michigan developed forty years ago.
Individual meetings with nonsupervisory staff continue. If you receive
a notice, please arrange a half-hour with your supervisor and my schedule
(via Outlook) for a meeting in my office.
Let's have a great week!
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum —
September 11, 2006, 11:20 pm
From the Clerk-Register: September 11. Today's message to my
I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone of the terrorist attacks five
years ago today. During that scary time, and afterwards, we heard many
times that the world is different now, in many different ways.
Five years later, it's fair to say that a lot of things are back to
pre-9/11 normal. We have long since stopped holding our breaths waiting
for the next massive attack. Ordinary political bickering resumed some
But for us in local government, some of the changes wrought by 9/11 are
Our courthouse entrance is being reconstructed in response to security
concerns. Our vital records office has been redefined as a gatekeeper for
identity documents, and the regulations are becoming steadily more
stringent. Birth certificates are now issued on serially numbered safety
paper. When you renew your driver's license, you will soon have to
present your birth certificate, and the Secretary of State's office will
check the document's serial number with us to make sure it's genuine.
Many of the 9/11 hijackers had Virginia driver's licenses, because
those were very easy to get in 2001. New regulations are intended to
prevent any state from being as easygoing as Virginia, but the
requirements affect all states, and are turning the driver's license into
a de facto national ID card.
The courthouse will soon have built-in security gates at the entrance,
replacing the lobby. Certainly we hope the changes will make it quicker
and easier to handle crowds. And though I don't expect terrorists to show
up at the corner of Main and Huron, the long history of violent attacks on
judges by disappointed litigants should be enough to justify this.
The remaining recounts from the primary election were completed
today. The only outcome which changed: the Augusta Township fire millage,
which had been tied, PASSED by one vote.
Meanwhile, the "Stop-Overspending" proposal at the state level was
ruled to have insufficient signatures. So, November's ballot is pretty
Individual meetings with nonsupervisory staff continue. If I
haven't met with you yet, please arrange a half-hour with your supervisor
and my schedule (via Outlook) for a meeting in my office.
Let's have a great week!
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum —
September 5, 2006, 2:35 pm
From the Clerk-Register: Fall Arrives. Today's message to my
My daughter Sarah started third grade this morning. The weather was
perfect, and there was a big crowd of parents, teachers, and kids for the
annual flag-raising ceremony signifying the opening of school.
School now starts the day after Labor Day because of a new law which
prohibits public schools from starting the school year any earlier. Many
of us were critical of this action; it openly placed a higher value on the
tourism industry than on education. But now that it's done, I can't
complain about not having to gear up for the school year while August is
still on the calendar. Starting after Labor Day aligns the school year
with the seasons.
Of course I don't mean the traditional definition of the four seasons
as starting and ending on the equinoxes (March 21 and September 21) and
the solstices (December 21 and June 21). The season is usually in full
swing by the time we arrive at the "technical" start date. Who thinks of
December 19, say, as an "autumn" day, when we may have had weeks of cold
and snow? June 21, our official first day of summer, was known to
Shakespeare as "Midsummer".
Here in Michigan, the coldest quarter of the year, based on average
temperature records, runs from December 8 to March 8. Extending that
definition to have four seasons of equal length, fall would begin this
Friday, September 8. That makes a certain amount of sense.
But in the lives of most people in our region, the seasons are
bracketed by major holidays. Fall is from Labor Day to Thanksgiving;
winter is from the day after Thanksgiving to Easter or Passover; spring is
from then until Memorial Day; and summer runs from Memorial Day to Labor
Following that schedule, I can now say: Welcome to Fall!
A couple of additional notes:
The Day of Caring donation boxes are located in all of the
Clerk/Register offices until this Friday. Our Department is sponsoring
three agencies, Hope Clinic, Family Life Services and the Humane Society.
The wish lists for each of these agencies is attached to the box and on
the e-central site. When you donate, fill out the goldenrod sheet and
send it to Karen Edman in Court Services. You will receive the 2006 Day
of Caring T-shirt via interoffice mail.
Individual meetings with staff members resume this week. I've
been here 20 months, but I have not yet had an opportunity to meet
separately with all of the nonsupervisory staff members. You can set this
up yourself. When the workload permits, please arrange a half-hour with
your supervisor and my schedule (via Outlook) for a meeting in my
Let's have a great week!
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum —
September 1, 2006, 2:47 pm
County Board/Sheriff Controversy Boiling Over. In the last few
days, the fight over policing contracts has reached a new level of
The county board and Administrator (Bob
Guenzel) are acting to lay off deputies and reduce service to the
three townships which have refused to sign service contracts, and the
Minzey) sued to stop this action. A hearing is scheduled in
Some news stories:
The following letter from the Sheriff was faxed to local
August 30, 2006
To the Community Leaders of Washtenaw County:
Today I appeared before Monroe County Circuit Judge Costello seeking a
temporary restraining order to block the County's threatened lay-off of
Sheriff's employees. Although this is only the first step in a lengthy
process, I am pleased to tell you that the outcome of today's hearing was
an ageement that there will be no lay-offs at this time. On
October 10 and 11th, we will return to court with Judge Costello hearing
testimony on both sides of this matter.
Additionally, we are in the midst of another jail overcrowding
emergency. In the past, when we reached this stage of the overcrowding
process, we boarded inmates at other counties. I had planned to proceed
with the out-county boarding later this week, utilizing the same jails as
in the past, to reduce the jail population to the mandated count of 322.
However, Mr. Guenzel has taken action to prevent any transfer of inmates
by canceling boarding contracts with the counties we have been using for
Once again, I would surmise that this action is politically motivated,
as the boarding contracts were cancelled the same day I filed suit against
Mr. Guenzel and the Board of Commissioners to stop the impending lay-offs.
You will, no doubt, be hearing much more about this issue — as the
overcrowding emergency has run full course and we will be forced to lock
our doors. As of September 6th, we will have no choice but to follow the
law. According to statute, the Sheriff shall defer acceptance for
incarceration in the general population of the county jail persons
sentenced to or otherwise committed to the county jail for incarceration
until the county jail overcrowding state of emergency is ended, except
that the sheriff shall not defer acceptance for incarceration all persons
under sentence for or charged with violent or assaultive crimes, sex
offenses, escape from prison or jail, controlled substance offenses, or
Jail overcrowding is a critical public safety issue. We need
immediate, temporary solutions as well as a long-range plan. The Board of
Commissioners and Mr. Guenzel have left me with no option but to take
court action to protect the citizens of Washtenaw County. I am deeply
concerned that jail overcrowding has become another political football. I
will do everything in my power to keep the citizens of Washtenaw County
Daniel J. Minzey, Sheriff
Yesterday, Bob Guenzel distributed the following letter in
It has come to my attention that Sheriff Dan Minzey has sent out a
FAX/IMPORTANT NOTICE to area officials concerning the latest mandated
emergency overcrowding at the Washtenaw County Jail.
I am attaching two Updates that I've written for employees in the last
few days concerning this and other matters. I've also made them available
on our public web site as
it has become clear that Mr. Minzey has widened the scope of his
The Updates speak for themselves, but I would like to add some information
by way of refutation, and for more complete understanding of the breadth
of these falsehoods and what I can only deem self-promotion at the expense
of the truth.
For more than three years, and I think I can speak for the Board of
Commissioners on this point, we have poured our hearts and souls into
finding a way to increase the size of the jail, easing overcrowding.
We have put forth dozens of ideas and initiatives, and at almost every
juncture, Sheriff Dan Minzey, the person one would think could gain most
from our efforts, has been either a non-participant or an active
What is striking about the Sheriff's most recent message to local
officials is that he is repudiating the one instance in which he was on
the same page with the Board of Commissioners and with me by presenting
a joint recommendation, passed as a Resolution at the June 7th, 2006 board
meeting, to phase out the boarding of inmates at facilities in other
The Sheriff made a strong presentation about facing the options of 1)
Continuing to board out inmates as needed, 2) capping the number of
boarded inmates; 3) ceasing immediately the boarding of inmates or 4)
phasing the boarding of inmates. Sheriff Minzey gave his opinion that
boarding inmates should be phased out with the end of terms for those then
presently incarcerated at other jails.
Phasing out the practice of boarding out inmates was to be part of
fixing the system of incarceration here in Washtenaw County. The Sheriff
has been aware of many ideas and legal options that are now standard
policy for other county jail facilities with similar overcrowding
problems, and yet none has been implemented by this County.s Sheriff in
anticipation of ending the boarding of inmates at external facilities, as
he recommended in June.
- "Good Time" — Allows for the reduction of jail time due to good
almost every sheriff in the state of Michigan, approved by the Court a
year ago — NOT IMPLEMENTED.
- Work Release programs — NOT IMPLEMENTED.
- The County's practice of holding all court-ordered misdemeanants
- Various methods of bond reduction at time of booking &mdash NOT
- Expedition of prison-bound inmates who languish in the jail where they
should no longer be after sentencing — NOT IMPLEMENTED.
- A systematic review of offenders who may have warrants in other
counties that could be sent to those counties or dismissed outright
— NOT IMPLEMENTED.
Add to the list, Under Michigan Statutory Authority, the Sheriff has
one major option to solve overcrowding that he refuses to take — a
30% reduction, across the board, of inmate [sentences] during an
Unfortunately, all that we're seeing during this emergency is more
posturing and prevaricating from the Sheriff — and more time
Please feel free to contact me with your questions or concerns on this
Right now, the county board is backing Bob Guenzel in this. But three
of the board incumbents were defeated in the recent primary. Presumably
the three townships are waiting for the new board to change course and
restore the county subsidy for police services.
I attended previous workshops on jail overcrowding along with the
sheriff, judges, commissioners and so on. Many different measures were
discussed, but the only one which could provide instant relief was the
sheriff's statutory authority to reduce sentences across the board by up
General support was voiced around the room for this option for dealing
with overcrowding emergencies, as opposed to the very costly outbedding of
prisoners. I do not understand why Dan Minzey isn't using it.
Update, Sept 4: More background, and lively discussion, at Arbor
showdown: Minzey sticks to the fax.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum —
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