2010-05-22 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Justice Weaver ‘Will Not Be Bullied’
By George Weeks

It's been intra-party Slam Week for Republicans seeking the gubernatorial nomination, and for GOP justices on the Michigan Supreme Court.

Attorney General Mike Cox made a substantial buy to air the campaign's first negative TV ad, slamming U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra of Holland, who leads in latest polling on the primary, for voting to make "big government bigger."

While that's a stretch of an attack on a politician who in 2009 had the most conservative voting record in the Michigan congressional delegation and gets periodic acclaim from taxpayer group ratings, Cox cited specific Hoekstra-embraced earmarks that included the infamous Alaska "bridge to nowhere."

Hoekstra slammed back with a modest buy for an ad saying, "when people distort facts about Pete's record, it says more about the people creating the myths than it does about Pete." Hoekstra's fans say what he voted for included a $286 million increase in Michigan's return on federal gas tax dollars.

As intramural skirmishes go, what's happening early in the GOP primary is normal and tame compared to what's going on among Republican justices on the Supreme Court, where three justices have asked for an investigation of a fellow Republican.

In decades of following the court, I've never seen anything like last week's robed clashes on the bench, and I say "seen" because it is possible to view video tapes of open court proceedings.

At an opening hearing Wednesday, there were sharp exchanges over how Justices Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markman, and Robert Young, Jr., had asked the Judicial Tenure Commission to investigate their allegations that Justice Elizabeth Weaver had improperly disclosed internal deliberations to an attorney on a case that was no longer before the court.

Markman had one of the best zingers of the hearing. As to Weaver's complaint about a "gag rule," he retorted: "There's never been a more ungagged member of this court."

At one point in jousting with Markman, Democratic Justice Diane Hathaway, who defeated Republican Chief Justice Cliff Taylor in a stunning 2008 upset and sided with Weaver in a losing 2-5 vote on rules unfavorable to Weaver, told Markman: "You sound like my children in kindergarten."

Young, who is up for reelection, said to Weaver, also up for reelection: "I referred you [to the commission] because you are unethical. You have compromised the integrity of this court and made it impossible to deliberate without the fear that at the whim you will reveal to the parties" court discussions on a case.

Weaver, in a Thursday statement, said: "Any accusations by my colleagues that I have violated ethical rules are incorrect. I have done nothing wrong.

"They are politically attacking me in an attempt to bully me into not running for re-election because they want this court to be a 'secret club.' Such political maneuvering is unworthy of my colleagues. I was not elected by the people to be part of a 'secret club.' I have a constitutional right to not have my dissents suppressed and a duty to the people of this state to keep them informed about how this court conducts its judicial business."

Also on Thursday, Young told the Grand Rapids Press: “I resent that she is trying to make it about public disclosure.”

He contends Weaver is trying to cover up wrongdoing by saying she is providing information to the public, but in fact she was having improper discussions with an attorney involved with cases before the court. He said the court's administrative rule extends after a case is closed and is a concept embraced by high courts nationwide.

Weaver, in a phone chat Friday, vowed "I will not be bullied" out of running but insisted she has not made a decision about seeking reelection.

I suspect she will run again. If reelected, it would give her the best shot of championing the commendable reforms she has been promoting, and gaining legislative support for reforms on election of justices -- including selection by districts. As it is now, six of the seven justices are from the Detroit-Lansing areas. She's from Leelanau County.

Young and other anti-Weaver Republicans have talked of deterring the Republican State Convention from nominating her for one of the party's two slots on the nonpartisan ballot.

Young in January said of GOP convention delegates: "They can nominate her, or they can nominate me."

As a sitting justice, Weaver has the option of paying $100 and filing as an independent and still getting the cherished "incumbent" designation.

Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer has been targeting Young but not Weaver. He released an anti-Young video last week.

After the Wednesday hearing, Weaver said what happened "is another reason why we need to reform how Michigan justices are elected and appointed. Justices should be independent, orderly, professional, fair, accountable, and truly restrained in the use of the Supreme Court's power.

"Most importantly, justices should insist upon transparency, not secrecy."

Cheers for that.

Jeers for this

It was a goofy game when Senator Bruce Patterson (RCanton) introduced Senate Bill 1285, calling for newspaper readers to pay a deposit on each newspaper they buy just as we pay now for some bottles and cans.

It would require a deposit equal to half the price of the newspaper and would require each paper to maintain a redemption site where readers could turn in their newspaper and collect the refund of their deposit.

An understandably alarmed Michigan Press Association dubbed it the "Newspaper Death Act," coming during troubled times for many of its members.

A steamed John Tarrant of the Antrim Review in Bellaire placed a call to Patterson and started writing that "these guys have too much time on their hands if they have time to think up and introduce crazy laws like this one." He calls it a good argument for a part-time Legislature.

After the senator, who once had visions of running for attorney general, returned the call, the final version of Tarrant's column last week said:

"It turns out that this was a 'tongue-in-cheek' piece of legislation Patterson introduced with no intention of having it go anywhere and for the sole purpose of getting some calls from newspaper types like me so he can explain something to us."

The delighted senator already had heard from some Metro Detroit area papers. Tarrant said: "His message to Michigan newspapers is that we need to do a better job of letting our readers know how bad things are in Lansing. The truth of the situation, he says, is that the state's legitimate news sources, its newspapers, are being drowned out by the extremists on blogs and Web sites and the fact that the State of Michigan is totally lacking in leadership is not getting out.

"Frankly, I don't know where Patterson is coming from with this bizarre approach to the state's newspapers. Anybody living in Michigan these days is certainly well aware of the sorry state of our state, but if Patterson truly believes newspapers haven't gotten that word out, there are easier ways to let us know than introducing bogus legislation designed solely to get our attention."

Patterson's weird caper was an abuse of legislative privilege, and a waste of legislative staff and resources. If his goal was to get newspapers to report on what is wrong with Lansing, he has provided a perfect example.

George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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