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Censure mayor, citizens say

On June 18, Jenice Mitchell Ford editorialized about a series of events that had crippled the city’s governance structure. In her editorial comments, Ford stepped back away from the fray and gave a great summary of the legislative process and the implementation of new laws. She has always brought considerable talents to her deliberations and judgments to any civic issue. She succinctly explains how construction and intent provides guidance and insights into the daily decision-making process in government. I would have liked her to have provided more amplification on the comment “the law is what the judge said is the law.”

The most simplified version of this is to suggest our judicial system is flat and that the decision of judges, as annunciated by one judge, is the final arbitrator of the facts and circumstances surrounding events. Michigan’s court system, much like other American state legal systems, has a complex multi-dimensional structure. This structure allows for judicial review and opportunities for judges to get it right. And most importantly, to get it right in the interests of the democratic principles that we protect around the world. In this case, not to appeal the decision of this judge is bad law.

The recent legal action brought by Detroit Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon as she sought to enforce the City Charter created a real dilemma in local and state government. The 2012 Detroit Charter mandates her to act on behalf of the interests of the corporate body and not be constrained and demonized by a vacillating group of elected officials and the press. Citizens across the city during the long series of public Charter hearings and meetings raised the question of Charter enforcement and encouraged the Commission to affix that responsibility to a tangible group or individual and force a process of public discourse so that citizens may witness the events and make judgments on the conduct of elected and appointed officials. The Commission responded to the questions of who would enforce the Charter by affixing it to the mandated responsibilities of the city attorney. This provision was written in full knowledge that the parties who most often violate the Charter are the mayor, the Council and appointed representatives of the city. I would argue that this crisis was foreseeable and necessary to move the city forward.

There is also a dynamic interplay between the legal issues and the political environment. Bad law is oftentimes made because of political decisions to not seek judicial review from higher authorities. I wonder if the judge in the above case actually read the 2012 Charter for completeness before rendering his opinion. Literally, a read of the 2012 Charter a few pages beyond the judge’s focus would have cleared up the issue at law. If we stop and think through the overall process associated with the above case, we would have seen cumbersome actions and judgments on the part of all of the actors.

Gregory Hicks

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