In The News

Michigan Task Force Fights for Emergency Manager Rule Reform

Flint. Its struggles are known the nation over, but no one seems able to do much about it — though they try. The clean water crisis that began in the riverbed has inspired Democrats and Republicans as part of a Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency to put forth 30 policy proposals intended to limit the amount of lead allowed in public drinking water and to punish those who disregard these guidelines. One such proposal would reform the state’s emergency manager rule, which grants which grants a single individual, appointed by the governor, the power to step in and mitigate crises.

The rule was designed and enacted to protect Michigan and its people in the event of an emergency, but two such individuals appointed in Flint stood idly by while the city’s water safety deteriorated. Attorney General has been quoted acknowledging the rule’s failure in this instance, but still argues its overall value. An independent task force appointed by Snyder, however, found that this string of unelected managers made “key decisions that contributed to the crisis,” effectively hindering “the checks and balances and public accountability that come with public decision-making.”

Michigan’s Emergency Manager Rule needs reform.

The following content originally appeared in the Detroit News on April 6, 2017.

In a report released more than a year ago, the task force called for a review of the emergency manager law, urged policy makers to consider alternatives and stressed the need to ensure proper support and expertise to help appointees run local governments or school districts.

The special legislative committee echoed those calls in October, suggesting the state replace the single emergency manager with a three-person financial management team comprised of a financial expert, local government operations expert and local ombudsman.

Beyond informal discussions last year, there have been no substantive talks about reforming the law, which Snyder signed in late 2012 after Michigan voters overturned an earlier version.

“Based on the fact the Legislature’s own special committee recommended changes, I think the Legislature is going to be hard up to explain why they haven’t addressed it,” said Ken Sikkema, a Republican and former state Senate majority leader who co-chaired the governor’s task force. “It’s not that complicated.”

Dana Nessel honored

Criminal defense attorney and civil rights icon, Dana Nessel, will be recognized next week by Wayne State University’ Law School.  At the annual Treasure of Detroit ceremony, Ms. Nessel will be recognized with several other promenent members of Detroit’s legal community who have made significant contributions to the practice of law

As a graduate of Wayne Law’s class of 1994, Ms. Nessel began her career with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office, where she  served in several specialized units. During her tenure Dana Nessel successfully prosecuted dozens of murder cases, specialized in “shaken baby” cases, and prosecuted major auto theft and chop shop rings, to name only a few of her areas of practice.

2005, Dana Nessel left the prosecutor’s office to enter the world of private practice, where she has become renowned as a staunch defender of constitutional rights. In her criminal practice, Ms. Nessel has vigorously defended hundreds of criminal cases, from petty theft to first degree murder. Dana Nessel’s extensive knowledge of the law and her personal experience with the judges, prosecutors and police officers in the area makes her ideally suited to best advise her clients on their concerns, and to know how to approach their cases. As a result, she is able to achieve results unmatched by most attorneys’ practicing in the area, making her one of the top criminal defense attorneys in Michigan.

While Ms. Nessel’s practice has a heavy emphasis on criminal defense, she also handles civil rights actions, family law matters, and general tort litigation. Ms. Nessel is recognized as one of the premier litigators of LGBT issues in Michigan. In 2010, Ms. Nessel brought the matter of Harmon v. Davis, in which a Michigan court, for the first time, held that a non-biological parent in a same-sex couple could establish custodial rights to the couple’s children. Ms. Nessel also successfully petitioned for the first second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples in Oakland and Wayne Counties. She has defended and acquired exonerations for scores of defendants wrongly targeted for prosecution based on sexual orientation and has represented various clients terminated from employment based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2012, she spearheaded the precedent-setting case, DeBoer v. Snyder, which challenged the bans on adoption and marriage for same-sex couples in Michigan. Deboer was later consolidated with its affiliated Sixth Circuit cases into Obergefell v. Hodges in the United States Supreme Court. This landmark case legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. In 2014, Ms. Nessel, along with her co-counsel on DeBoer, was honored with the “Champion of Justice” award by the Michigan State Bar Association. In 2015, she was designated as “Woman of the Year” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Ms. Nessel is also an officer for Fair Michigan, an organization dedicated to the equal protection of women and LGBT residents under the Michigan Constitution.

Here is a link for information regarding the Treasure of Detroit ceremony.

New Muslim Travel Ban Faces Legal Challenges in Michigan

Thanks to a revised Executive Order signed on March 6, a new travel ban targeting majority Muslim nations will take effect this Thursday — or it might not. Attorneys from Michigan to Hawaii and beyond, as they work tirelessly in the name of civil rights and justice, have filed lawsuits demanding immediate censure of “an illegal and discriminatory attempt to ban Muslims,” so says Arab American Civil Rights League Director Rula Aoun.

“In America, we don’t target and prohibit people because of how they pray — and we don’t impose religious litmus tests on immigrants,” Aoun said. An attorney for the ACLU, Lee Gelernt, agrees with Aoun: The new order “discriminates on the basis of religion” and “will bring significant hardship to many people inside and outside the country.”

Where the original order banned citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days and Syrian citizens indefinitely, the new version removes Iraq and lifts the indefinite ban on Syrians. Opponents including the Arab-American Civil Rights League, the ACLU, and Nessel & Kessel Law hold that the ban will render harm not just to people but to tourism, morale, and the economy as well.

A federal judge could strike down the ban tonight.

The largest legal assault is a lawsuit filed by Washington state and joined by California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon. They argue that the ban will hurt their economies by limiting students and professors who can work and study at state universities, reducing tourism from the Middle East and curbing employment from those countries.

U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who halted Trump’s first ban, is hearing this lawsuit, too. He gave government lawyers until Tuesday night to file a response. Robart could issue an order immediately after that, or schedule a hearing later this week.

Source: USA Today

Dana Nessel Leads the Charge Against LGBTQIA Hate in Michigan

In these times of tumult and political unrest, Nessel & Kessel remains steadfast in its commitment to defending the rights of all citizens but particularly those who identify as part of the often marginalized LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersexual, asexual) community. There was no greater honor for our Detroit family law firm than to have represented April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse in a suit to protect the sanctity of their family; we went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States!

But DeBoer and Rowse were not the first, and haven’t been the last Michiganders to seek legal counsel and advice from Chris Kessel and Dana Nessel regarding issues concerning life, love, family, and civil rights.

LGBTQIA advocate Dana Nessel & Fair Michigan selected to help combat hate crimes in Detroit.

Fair Michigan — a nonprofit led by Dana Nessel that proclaims to “create a Michigan where the presence and contributions of everyone are welcomed and celebrated regardless of their gender, gender identity, sex, or sexual orientation” — was approached by Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy to address a growing problem in the region. “I noticed a national trend, ticking upward, of people being killed because of their sexual orientation,” said Worthy in a statement.

The group led by Nessel has taken up an initiative, appointing an investigator and a special prosecutor to work in conjunction with the Wayne County judicial system, to solve and prosecute especially heinous crimes committed against the LGBTQIA community.

Nessel was recently featured in the Detroit Jewish News for these very same efforts, highlighting the successes on behalf of civil justice in Michigan.

The following content was originally published on January 18, 2017.

So far, there have been five convictions, with five more pending, plus two criminal sexual conduct cases that include a serial rapist who had been targeting victims inside and outside the LGBTQ community.

“You stem the violence by successfully prosecuting [the perpetrators],” Nessel said. “It sends a message. I know this is a way to stem the violence, make the community safer.”

FMJP’s special prosecutor Jaimie Powell Horowitz, a former assistant prosecutor, and special investigator Vicki Yost, a former Inkster police chief and deputy chief for the Detroit Police Department, work in conjunction with Worthy and her staff to bring about justice by charging and convicting the perpetrators of these violent crimes, especially those cases where victims or witnesses were previously afraid to come forward.

“People who would never have called the police are coming to us,” said Nessel, who serves as president of the organization in addition to being a partner in the Downtown Detroit firm of Nessel & Kessel Law. “I give great credit to Kym Worthy. I don’t know anywhere else in the country with a task force for this.”

New Laws Affecting Michigan Residents in 2017

As a new year dawns, the state and federal government is changing. New laws are taking effect in Michigan, and it’s important for residents to be aware of how and in what ways they will be affected.

The minimum wage has gone up.

As of January 1, 2017 the state minimum wage is higher than it once was: newly $8.90 an hour, from $8.50. The minimum wage will again rise on January 1, 2017 to $9.25 an hour.

But so too has the cost of getting around.

The average price to fuel up in Michigan increased nearly 30 cents due to a gas tax increase of 7.3 cents, to 19 cents per gallon. The diesel tax, once 15 cents per gallon, also saw an increase, 11.3 cents per gallon. And that’s not all. Earlier this month, the state of Michigan increased annual vehicle registration fees by roughly 20 percent; the $1.3 billion in expected revenue is earmarked for road projects.

Telemedicine comes to Michigan.

Under a new law enacted by the Governor, Michigan residents can see the doctor without ever leaving their homes. Telemedicine has the power to ensure thousands of rural Michiganders have access to convenient and reliable healthcare without ever leaving their homes. Approved physicians will soon be able to consult with and prescribe patients medication via virtual environment.

There’s a new ban on banning plastic bags.

Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley signed legislation prohibiting the regulation of plastic shopping bags. Expected to become effective sometime in April, the new law bars individual municipalities from prohibiting, taxing, or otherwise governing the use of “auxiliary containers”, reusable or single-use bags, cups, bottles or other packaging from stores and restaurants. One county, Washtenaw, had passed a small fee to be levied on disposable grocery bags it expected to begin enforcing this spring, but new state law will override this decision.

Medical marijuana laws legalize resin and oil, impose a tax.

“In addition to dried leaves and flowers being legal to possess for patients,” explained Matt Abel, executive director of Michigan NORML, “the legislature has added the words resin and extract, so now concentrated forms of cannabis will be legal in Michigan … and topical oils and ointments, tinctures, which are a liquid that someone might put under their tongue, beverages and edibles.”

The new laws, which are seen largely as a victory for the marijuana lobby in the state, introduce a new tax on dispensary shops and set guidelines for state licensing and monitoring systems for the product from “seed to sale.”

What do you think of the new laws in Michigan in 2017?

Let us know.

Dana Nessel and Fair Michigan

This week in The Detroit Jewish News, their cover story was about Dana Nessel and her Fair Michigan Project.  The article is a profile of civil rights attorney Dana Nessel and the story behind her creation of the Fair Michigan Project, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.

Here is a link to the story.

‘Tis the Season for Christmas Caroling, Cocoa… and Lawsuits?

For most, the Christmas season is a time to be jolly, but for some others, it’s time to go to court.

They’re dreaming of anything but a white Christmas.

One North Carolina jeweler made a wager with its customers in 2010, promising free baubles for all if Asheville saw a white Christmas. It was a gimme they figured. No way. Much to the owners’ chagrin, six inches of snow fell that day. Sure enough, they made good on their offer of free jewelry. This wasn’t enough for one customer, however, who received a $7000 refund minus tax and sued the store for the remaining $600. A judge found in favor of the defendant.

Include Hannukah, or else.

Poor Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday so often forgotten in favor of its more mainstream, Christian counterpart, Christmas. Ornamented trees and poinsettia dominate the landscape, and often there’s nary a menorah to be found. Over this, a retired lawyer and resident of Leesburg, Florida sued the Lake County Retirement Community. And he won, too. His prize: an ornate menorah erected on the grounds of the neighborhood.

In the pacific northwest, executives at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport outright refused to include a menorah in their holiday display, and disgruntled travelers threatened to sue. Instead of complying with the request, SeaTac dismantled the display entirely — only to reinstate it some time later. They never added a menorah.

Gone caroling with instruments of torture…

Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been sued no fewer than six times over what some have considered cruel and unusual treatment; Arpaio would stream holiday music through prison speakers for as many as 12 hours per day. To date, the courts have found in the sheriff’s favor each time.

Have yourself a happy holiday season.

In 2013, an elementary school in South Carolina was forced to cancel its Operation Christmas Child toy drive after receiving correspondence from the American Humanist Association on behalf of a parent apprehensive about the program’s association with a Christian-based organization. This isn’t the first time concerns over religious undertones led to the end or banning of certain holiday tidings. One Texas principal denied a student from handing out candy canes with evangelical notes attached, while another school administrator in Texas confiscated pencils that read, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

They’re basically Clark Griswold.

Except the name is Osborne. Mitzi and Jennings Osborne were sued in the 90s over an excessive light display that comprised more than 3 million lights. The Griswolds have nothing on these people. Six neighbors came together to demand the Osbornes’ light show be limited to certain hours of the day for a limited number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. From local and district courts to Washington, and despite the defendants’ appeal, the plaintiffs’ request was granted.

Online Scam Targets LGBT Community

Members of the LGBT community have often found themselves the targets of crime.  Unfortunately, with the advent of technology, the range of these crimes has significantly broadened.  Recently, a number of gay men have become the focus of a blackmail scam.

These men would meet other gay men online and then engaged in consensual sexual acts.  However, almost immediately afterwards, these men would be contacted by a third party who would tell them that the person with whom they just engaged in consensual sexual acts with was a minor.  In Michigan, statutory rape is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.  The third party would then tell these men that he would report them unless they paid him off.  Sometimes the payment was a few hundred dollars, but in other instances the payment would be upwards of $70,000.00. 

Many of these men contacted Dana Nessel, of Nessel and Kessel Law and founder of Fair Michigan, a nationally known civil rights attorney.  Ms. Nessel advised these men to contact the police because it was clear that they had been targeted by a scam artist.  Thankfully some of the men did and one man has been taken into custody. 


Here is a link to a story done by Channel 7 WXYZ, in which Michigan LGBT attorney Dana Nessel spoke about the matter.