Total Pageviews

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Dog dreams may be dashed

If you thought things couldn’t get crazier in Florida, think again. Senate minority leader Lauren Book has sponsored a bill that forbids dogs from doing the most dog thing ever – sticking their heads out of car windows. It includes other provisions relative to animal welfare, like declawing, cosmetic animal testing, and animal abuser registration, but the doggy joy ride provision appears to have taken the cake (off the counter when your back was turned).

Senate Bill 932 provides for a variety of canine transportation do’s and don’ts, like not holding your dog on your lap or in “such a position as to interfere with the person’s control over the driving mechanism…while the person is operating the motor vehicle on a public roadway.” That one makes sense, especially given the increase in distracted driver laws. The common sense continues with not allowing a dog to ride in front of you on your motorcycle, or transport a pup on your roof, hood, fender, running board, trunk or cargo space. After that, it gets a little hairy.

The proposed bill states that a person may not “[a]llow a dog to extend its head or any other body part outside a motor vehicle window while the person is operating the motor vehicle on a public roadway.” I think everyone agrees that a dog (or anything else) should not be dangling out of a window, but taking away Fido’s ability to live his best dog life, his ears flapping in the wind, smelling all the smells, seems pawsitively crazy.

Yes, there are risks to Fido sticking his head out of a window, like accidentally stepping on the automatic window button, but the window locks can be engaged. Things may fly in his face and eyes, which can cause harm, but there are doggy goggles he could wear. If there is an accident, the dog may be launched from the vehicle, but most people do not secure their dog inside of their car, so this can happen anyway. A person who is found to have violated that portion of the proposed law would be issued a non-criminal traffic infraction.

Not surprisingly, people have a bone to pick with Senator Book for supporting the bill. Riding in a car with their head out of the window is something that is intrinsically linked to being a dog, their mouths gaping wide with excitement and thrill. Their lives are so much shorter than ours, and because of that, we want to give them the freedom to experience things before they cross rainbow bridge. Forbidding this pleasure would be too ruff to handle.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

California law offers protection for artists' lyrics

Music has always been a creative outlet for individuals to showcase their talent and imagination by creating songs others can enjoy. Creators frequently take artistic liberty with lyrics, keeping people guessing as to the real meaning behind the song, like “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus, while simultaneously generating a lot of buzz.

Lyrics that refer to criminal activity are certainly nothing new to the industry, with some referencing true events. Others, however, are simply tongue in cheek and have no basis in reality.

California became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of rap lyrics in court when Assembly Bill 2799 unanimously passed and was signed into law by Governor Newsom in late 2022. The law states “[i]n any criminal proceeding where a party seeks to admit as evidence a form of creative expression, the court, while balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice” must consider specific factors. The court must also make this determination “outside the presence and hearing of the jury.”

Rap music has impacted racial bias already existing in the judicial system, as the primary producers of this genre are Black men. Many lyrics are told from a first-person perspective, leading prosecutors to argue that the words are self-incriminating, using them as evidence against the accused. Rapper Young Thug’s 2022 Georgia RICO indictment included his and other defendants’ social media postings, images and song lyrics.

The law applies to multiple forms of creative expression, including music videos, offering artists broader protection. The goal is to reduce racial bias in California’s criminal courts, and frankly this is something needed in all 50 states. New York proposed a similar bill, but it did not receive approval by the State Assembly.

Racial bias and prejudice in the court system is a serious and long-standing issue. By passing laws like this, the hope is that other states follow suit and thoroughly investigate how it can take action. Doing so would be music to all of our ears.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Gun range offering alcohol will backfire

In a state not so far away, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election is ramping up to be one of the more interesting judicial races of 2024. Every time there is an open seat on the bench, constituents become concerned that the new judge will change the direction of the court’s opinions. With controversial topics such as abortion and gun control, each new judge elected can have a major impact on state laws.

One of the candidates for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is Jennifer Dorow, who has been a circuit court judge in Waukesha County since 2012. She has previously shared her opinion that the worst US Supreme Court decision was Lawrence v Texas, which legalized consensual sexual acts between same-sex individuals. Her husband served in the Trump administration with the US Department of Homeland Security. It’s safe to say she meets all the conservative criteria one could ever wish for (if you’re into that sort of thing).

She and her husband bought a closed sportsman’s club with the intent to create an indoor gun range, and host weddings and events at the facility. None of this seems particularly dangerous, except for the fact that they have requested a liquor license to sell beer and wine at the facility. To add to the convenience of one-stop-shopping, they also plan on selling guns and accessories. But don’t worry – they’ve come up with a fail-proof safety plan! 

In examining the City of Delafield Plan Commission Zoning Report from March 2022, it states: “Member/guests will receive an inked handstamp prior to purchasing or consuming alcohol and anyone with a handstamp will not be permitted to use the ranges.” PBTs (preliminary breathalyzer test) will be available in case anyone appears suspicious, and patrons will have to “secure their firearms in their vehicles prior to obtaining any alcohol.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been getting stamps on my hands since I was a kid – the ones that glowed under the black light were particularly exciting. Unless these stamps are permanent tattoos, I think it’s safe to say that there are a variety of ways one could remove the stamp – alcohol wipes, nail polish remover, and good old soap and water to name a few. The commission recommendation provides that the Dorows obtain their restaurant and liquor licenses, and that “[t]here shall be no shooting activities by individuals that have been drinking alcoholic beverages.” So far, the club has not opened.

Common sense says combining guns and alcohol is a mixed drink for disaster. The tragedies that can result from these types of sanctioned activities are endless, and to know that a sitting judge is not only supporting but engaging in this type of business is troubling to say the least. This should serve as a reminder to all voters to do their research before heading to the polls.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Texas judge is playing a dangerous game

The saying that “everything is bigger in Texas” shouldn’t apply to the firearm freedoms that domestic abusers enjoy, but that could be the reality based on a recent court ruling. Many personal protection orders sought on behalf of domestic violence victims prohibit the abuser from possessing or buying firearms, for obvious reasons. This can cause issues if the individual is required to carry a weapon during his or her employment, but the overall protection from intimate partner violence should take precedence.

The 2022 US Supreme Court decision New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc., et al., v Bruen, was based around New York state licensing laws that required citizens to prove an additional “special need for self-defense” to publicly carry a firearm. Ultimately the Supreme Court held that the requirements violated the Constitution’s Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

Most states operate under the presumption of granting a person a public carry license as long as specific criteria are met; however, a handful of states allow for discretionary denial of the license, even if the criteria have been fulfilled.  In Bruen, the Supreme Court held “that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct….Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside of the Second Amendment’s ’unqualified command.’ ” Its historical research of firearm possession solidified the Court’s position that it was a right afforded to citizens prior to the Second Amendment. Basically, the application of the Constitution must be extended to circumstances that may not have been envisioned by its authors.

David Counts, a judge for the Western District of Texas, used the ruling in Bruen to justify his decision to find federal law 18 USC Section 922(g)(8) unconstitutional and in violation of the Second Amendment. This law criminalizes the possession of a firearm by an individual subject to a domestic restraining order. The defendant in Counts’ case had a Kentucky family court restraining order in effect against him, and was charged for violating the federal statute as he possessed a firearm while being subject to the restraining order. In applying the Bruen case, the judge determined that the federal law did not comply with the historical understanding of the Second Amendment, noting that the government rarely removed firearms from an abuser, or interfered in these types of family disputes.

While Counts acknowledged that a piece of paper does not stop abusers from abusing, and “states should punish abusers with the full force of the law,” he granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment.

The takeaway here is that our government has done a poor job at protecting domestic violence victims, historically, and now.  It isn’t 1791, and people aren’t walking around with muskets and flintlock pistols. Yes, more protections exist now than in the past, but shouldn’t we be striving to make the world safer for those at the most risk? These types of rulings put power, intimidation and guns back into the abuser’s hands, especially when the victim believes the court won’t keep him or her safe. Instead, what victims see is the court is playing Russian Roulette with their lives.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Zoom court is still court, even for the judge

Many people forget that attending Zoom court is still court. It may not have the pomp and circumstance like the wood and marbled courtrooms, but the rulings and sentences are still the same. I’ve seen my fair share of questionable outfits (or lack thereof), and interesting places that people camp out for their appearance in court. My favorite was a bathroom, and I had to ask the party if he was there to do business or just find some peace and quiet. Luckily, it was the latter (allegedly).

In Columbia, it appears that even judges are not immune to poor outfit and location choice, as Justice Vivian Polania was recently suspended for three months due to holding court in her underwear in bed, while smoking a cigarette. I mean, if you’re going to be this reckless, go big or go home.

Apparently Polania is well-known for posting provocative pictures of herself on her Instagram, so the thought of her holding court in bed, half-dressed, isn’t a big stretch of the imagination. Her social media posts have prompted disciplinary investigations in the past, but she remained undeterred and upped the ante with the recent antics. Her suspension is unpaid, so who can blame a girl for a little side hustle?

The online video of her during the hearing shows her semi-awake in the middle of a yawn. To double down on the questionable behavior, Polania slurred her words and turned off the camera at one point, perhaps realizing that her appearance wasn’t the most judge-like. Even more disturbing is the seriousness of the hearing she was presiding over at the time – whether bail should be granted for a man accused of a car bombing.

Her response to why she appeared in such a state was that she was suffering from an anxiety attack and had low blood pressure. Polania stressed that she will not change her personality to align with other people’s expectations. Clearly she is an unconventional judge, but that shouldn’t be synonymous with unprofessional.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Attorney Referees Explained


What exactly is an Attorney Referee at the Friend of the Court (FOC)? Much like the “Stars – they’re just like us!” columns in the tabloids, we are people just like you (except with JDs and an overwhelming desire to wear black and white striped jerseys). Attorney referees have a special function, if I do say so myself, in the judicial system. We act in a quasi-judicial fashion, meaning we can play pseudo judge, conducting hearings and issuing orders.

Keep in mind that this is just a general overview of what functions referees may perform, and each county usually has its own tweaks to the assigned duties. At the FOC, referees are used for hearings on all motions in domestic relations cases, except for increases or decreases on spousal support as that topic is not within the scope of the statute (see MCL 552.507). Most hearings are set by way of a referral directly from the court after a party files a motion, and some stem from administrative reviews of child support that a party has objected to. We also conduct joint meetings and mediations.

During referee hearings, testimony is taken from the parties and witnesses and the referee issues a recommendation and proposed order on the contested issues. Depending on the circumstances, a referee may be able to issue an interim order for the parties to follow as they wait out the 21 day objection period on the recommendation.

If a party properly objects, the judge determines what happens next. The court can adopt the referee’s recommended order in whole or in part, grant the relief the objecting party is asking for, or hold a new hearing with the judge.

Some referees will give the parties an opportunity to settle the matter prior to conducting the hearing, which offers a less litigious option. Most parties prefer to maintain control over their lives instead of having a stranger like the referee or judge, decide what they will do. The parties may not like or love the agreement, but they know they can live with it. Putting an end to the fighting also helps put an end to attorney fees. If the parties can reach a consent, it is often drafted into an order and forwarded to the court for entry at the hearing, allowing them to have resolution the same day.

Other common referee duties include approving orders before they are entered with the court to ensure that they comply with the law and are processed properly. We provide legal assistance to the office, confer with judges and their attorneys, and prepare motion dockets. In some counties, referees work both the family and juvenile docket, while others are limited to one area.

While we may not blow a whistle for misconduct on the field, we try our best to level it for everyone.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Hague Convention explained

 One of the least understood provisions that is contained in a good chunk of family law orders is the Hague Convention language, which is codified in the statute MCL 722.27a(10). It states: Except as provided in this subsection, a parenting time order shall contain a prohibition on exercising parenting time in a country that is not a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This subsection does not apply if both parents provide the court with written consent to allow a parent to exercise parenting time in a country that is not a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.”

Like many laws, it’s a mouthful, and a fair amount of people don’t know what the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is. In October of 1980, various countries joined the treaty to create a process to ensure that children who were wrongfully taken from their home country were returned to their home country.

Countries have continued to join the treaty throughout the years, which is an extremely positive step in ensuring that court orders from other countries relative to custody and parenting time will be respected around the world. Because countries are sovereign nations, they basically stay out of another country’s legal business. However, when a child has been abducted, and when the abduction has taken him to another country, it is important for the various nations to work together to resolve the abduction quickly.

The Michigan statute prohibits either parent from taking the minor child to a country that does not participate in the Convention to prevent abductions to countries that won’t help the United States get the child back. The exception is that parents can agree to the travel if they provide their written consent to the court to allow it. Family visits and vacations are the most common reasons for parties to travel to a non-Hague country.

If you are planning on taking a trip out of the US, it’s best to be proactive and double check that your destination is on the list of treaty partners. You want to take the kids to see the Great Pyramids in Egypt? You will need written consent to see the Sphinx because Egypt is not a Hague partner. But if your cruise stops in Jamaica, don’t worry, it joined the Convention in 2019.

An official list of the treaty countries can be found at the US Department of State’s website,, by clicking on “International Parental Child Abduction” and then the subsection of “Country Information.” Safe travels!