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Maxine Berman

Maxine Berman

Free the Lawyers!

October 4, 2013

Frankly, it never occurred to me that they weren’t.

In one of the more eye-popping, petty acts of retribution perpetrated by legislative Republicans, a bill will soon be introduced to end mandatory attorney membership in the State Bar.

The idea was hatched by the Michigan Freedom Fund, the same group that brought us Right to Work laws in Michigan in order to “free” union members from the yoke of paying union dues.

It has nothing—NOTHING—to do with the fact that the bipartisan board of the State Bar recently called for disclosure of all funding for judicial candidates, which Republicans see as a bald-faced political action.

No, Republicans are really pissed because they love freedom. Greg McNeilly, head of the Freedom Fund and former Executive Director of the state Republican Party, just can’t stand it when any group is forced into any membership anywhere.

But perhaps Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger said it best: “I’m interested in anything that spreads freedom, that allows individuals to control their own lives and their own destinies.” Well, maybe not all individuals, like that time he cooked a plan with a House Democrat from the Grand Rapids area to switch parties and put a fake Democrat on the same ballot so that voters in the district would really have no chance in the election to determine their destiny in terms of who would represent them in the legislature.

Nor does the Speaker apply his destiny control mantra to women who seek to end a pregnancy or even those who seek birth control coverage to help avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Apparently, controlling your own destiny can’t be tossed around lightly to just anybody.

I can only guess how many thousands of Michigan attorneys have been lobbying legislators to free them from the confines of Bar membership, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of everyday citizens who are practically rioting because they don’t want to know who is funding the judges who make decisions about their everyday lives. Who would? The demand for disclosure ignorance from Michigan voters is almost deafening.

According to Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, almost $14 million of the $18.6 million spent on Michigan judicial races in 2012 came from undisclosed donors, most of it going to Supreme Court candidates. Of course, that $14 million was spent on so-called “issue advocacy” ads which politicians from both parties love to use and claim they have nothing—NOTHING—to do with targeting or supporting any particular candidate. Oh, puh-leeze.

Since both parties do it, I really don’t understand how calling for donor disclosure in these ads can be considered political. Indeed, it seems just the opposite. Is Republican “dark money” so far ahead of Democratic “dark money” that they’re willing to fight to keep it, even though it sometimes helps their opposition? Apparently.

But here’s something I do understand. The State Bar of Michigan serves an important purpose, perhaps most critical patrolling its own members, which of course Greg McNeilly says isn’t really true if you look at Geoffrey Feiger. McNeilly also points out that doctors don’t have to join any group, but are regulated by the State Board of Medicine. I don’t have numbers for this, but I’ve seen plenty of articles about attorneys engaging in poor and/or suspect practices lose their licenses or at least be suspended from practicing for a certain amount of time, but precious few doctors who lost their licenses or were suspended unless state or federal prosecutors went after them first on something like Medicaid or Medicare fraud. Indeed, I always thought it would be a good thing if the State Board of Medicine had the same kind of controls the Bar does.

Why, quibble though when that’s not really the issue? The issue is a demand to keep and increase the freedom to use unaccountable funds in Michigan politics, especially judicial races.

Unfortunately, I suspect this legislation will pass and that Governor Snyder, who claims little interest in it, will sign it after he is lobbied by many contributors to his secret NERD fund who may well also be contributing undisclosed dollars to judicial races.

I just don’t know how much more freedom Michigan can stand.

Maxine Berman is the Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government at Central Michigan University, the first woman named to the post. She served seven terms in the Michigan House and most recently was director of special projects for Governor Jennifer Granholm. She is the author of the 1994 book The Only Boobs in the House Are Men.

October 3, 2013 · Filed under Berman

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anagnorisis // Oct 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

    “Boobs in the House” indeed. But for “old lady judges” this is mostly true. Michigan is sick. Remedial forces that do exist struggle and languish. Geoff Fieger though is dramaturgy-poised enough to merit defense by Gerry Spense who takes cases of spurious, frivolous or vindictive prosecution. It’s difficult to term it freedom though.

  • 2 Mark Bertler // Oct 4, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Thanks Max, for pointing out that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some accountability is better than none and most professions establish associations to try to protect and defend the reputation of that profession. Take the mandatory membership away and wait for it, wait for it, there would soon be public and political outcries to put some kind of accountability system/measures in place. Let’s build on and improve what we have.

  • 3 Becky // Oct 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Michigan is free-falling into a realm of deregulation which Maxine so clearly points out. Child safety and welfare, education, water and air quality, all in the name of more jobs . . . really? Eventually, the citizens will pay the ultimate price – so much for Pure Michigan!

  • 4 Stuart Filler // Oct 11, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    1) It’s “Laywers,” not “Lawyers”; at least, in the e-mail I received: Maxine Berman: Free the Laywers!
    How much more “freedom” can Michigan stand? Read
    2) I’ve been reading ital Swift’s Classical Rhetoric ital by C. A. Beaumont, 1961, and woke up when the irony started and hoped it would sustain. I discerned that the bill is a reprisal for the bar advocating disclosure and am proud I figured out from the ironic reversal. The piece I have in mind–I expect for the duration–has to do with slavery as an economic development tool and ways of guaranteeing it be non-color-based, a modest proposal.
    3) What if anything is wrong with a pack of madmen perverts and thugs taking over a society and oppressing and murdering people in it? Germany has become the powerhouse of Europe and a nation of conscience, Indonesia celebrates the concept of the gangster as “free man,” and the principals on Law and Order: Criminal Intent, receive a prompt response to a request for a Malaysian record and quip about the efficiency of a police state? On the other hand, Iowa may have fair judicial districting, but are they anything more than corn farmers?
    4) Exordium Narration Proof Refutation Peroration

  • 5 Fred Hoffman // Oct 18, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Freedom and freeloaderdom are two different things. Civil society abhors the latter.

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