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Posted by: Kristi Warner on Jun 11, 2021

The Time is Now for Transparency  and Accountability for the Police

by Senator Erika Geiss (D - Taylor)

Committees: Transportation & Infrastructure (Minority Vice Chair), Insurance & Banking (Minority Vice Chair), Education & Career Readiness, Economic & Small Business Development

For Black and Brown America, the criminal justice system has always been broken. The senseless murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the events surrounding them over the past 16 months, have only heightened the stark difference in how people view and define “justice.” These two tragedies have redefined the national narrative, and rightfully so, as they were both heartbreaking and avoidable, and brought police accountability to the forefront of discussions nationwide.

For years, Democrats have been working to make improvements to policing, but so often these opportunities have been undermined by a structure that stymies change and perpetuates institutionalized racism and systemic discrimination. During this term, though, we have an incredible opportunity to come together over these tragedies and work in a bipartisan way to collectively bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

In late May, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a 12-bill package to make improvements to policing — specifically regarding policing procedures, accountability and transparency. These measures are a part of a larger, multifaceted plan to restore public trust in police departments and police procedures.

It’s clear what we need to do to improve policing procedures across Michigan: We must reduce the potential for high-intensity police encounters, ensuring the safety of both police officers and the people they swore to protect and serve. Under Senate Bill 481, officers would be required to update their Use of Force policies to include a use of force continuum, verbal warning, and exhaustion of alternatives before using deadly force. In the case of an officer-involved death, each agency would be required to have a publicly available policy in place for independent investigations into these situations to ensure safety and that the proper procedures are followed.

To shore up additional safety for our communities, we also need to improve upon how police are allowed to enforce the law. “No-knock” warrants need to be eliminated, and we need a better definition of the alternative to a “knock and enter” warrant — which I sponsored. We must also eliminate the use of chokeholds except in the most charged situations when a police officer’s life is in clear and imminent danger.

For too long, policing institutions have been protected from true accountability measures. This 12-bill package aims to address this, as well as the need for police to rebuild trust among the people they serve. To that end, Senate Bill 480 would require police officers intervene when another officer uses excessive force. This would hold even more importance for another bill, Senate Bill 484, to make it a misdemeanor for law enforcement officers to tamper with body cameras or intentionally turn off cameras for the sake of interfering with an investigation.

When it comes to public safety, we cannot have “bad apples” recycled in the system and rehired in another jurisdiction after they are separated and released from their former policing job. Senate Bill 474 addresses this practice by requiring Use of Force violations be included in separation records. This would allow hiring police departments to have thorough record of service when reviewing applications for new officers.

Additionally, there is the need to ensure that officers of any rank and experience level remain properly trained and educated on the changing ways of modern policing in America. Senate Bill 482 would require officers to undergo new training standards regarding de-escalation, implicit bias, and behavioral health, along with required continuing education.

After years of senseless killings, it’s past time to harness the momentum of change so we can ensure such tragedy never happens again. With the help of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, now is our time to make the changes the people of Michigan need.

With the support of the Michigan Association for Justice and the American Association for Justice for our bipartisan legislation, we have the power and incredible opportunity to make policing safer in our communities and save lives. Let’s do it.

Posted by: Stephen Pontoni on Feb 8, 2021

BAKER TRIAL LAWYERS CAUCUS FOUNDED

By Carla Aikens; Carla D. Aikens PC, Detroit

 

              I am proud to announce the launch of the James W. Baker Trial Lawyers Caucus, a group comprised of African-American MAJ members.  We are starting things off with a virtual “kick-off” event in the coming weeks.   For those not familiar with James W. Baker, he was the first African-American President of MAJ from 1968-1969 who left behind a legacy of fighting for justice.

              Following the events of last summer, sparked by nationwide fallout after the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I approached MAJ President Donna MacKenzie and Executive Director Steve Pontoni to discuss the prospects of starting such a caucus to help MAJ become a more all-encompassing organization that better reflects the diverse clients and communities we serve.  Not surprisingly for anyone who knows them, both Donna and Steve enthusiastically supported this initiative.

              For any MAJ members who are also AAJ members, this new caucus closely aligns with the goals of the AAJ Minority Caucus, including in the areas of education, membership, public service, scholarship, and social events.  We will also work closely to support the initiatives of other affinity caucuses within MAJ, including the Women’s Caucus, of which I am also a member.

              Our hope is that the Caucus will be able to increase recruitment and retention of African-American members of the plaintiffs’ bar of the State of Michigan and also increase dialogue about issues that disproportionately impact us and our diverse clientele. I understand that these issues can be difficult to discuss and navigate, so I have been particularly encouraged by the support from MAJ that I have received.

              I am aware that there were some challenges to starting this Caucus in the past, and I am grateful to everyone who has assisted in getting us to this point, including many AAJ members and staff.  I am always looking to operate as efficiently as possible in everything that I do, so I welcome any questions or comments that you may have about the Caucus and/or its initiatives. 

              Thank you again, and I look forward to working with the entire MAJ membership as a member of this new Caucus.

Posted by: Kristi Warner & Stephen Pontoni on Feb 8, 2021

              Blessed are the Advocates

by Kelly Breen (D - Novi)

Committees: Judiciary and Insurance

On January 13, 2021, the elected members of the Michigan House and Senate convened to begin the 101st Michigan Legislature. Seated in the hallowed chamber, I began to digest my historic surroundings and understand my new responsibilities as a freshman legislator. While the pandemic has thwarted some traditional ceremonial aspects of assuming state office, I am honored and thrilled to serve the 38th District. As necessity is the mother of invention, people and organizations found new ways to function, to communicate, and to cope.

              We are lingering in purgatory, waiting for a tipping point in the war on COVID-19 foisted upon our democracy by an outgoing Federal administration. Michiganders are no stranger to the domestic strife seen in recent weeks. In these moments, I am reminded of the importance of advocacy and grateful for those who join a cause greater than themselves. I find comfort knowing in every area of our state’s legal system, there are advocates working towards a brighter tomorrow. Organizations like the Michigan Association for Justice, and the advocates who comprise its membership, will certainly continue to lead the way in finding the solutions that our communities are depending on.

              In the area of workers’ compensation, MAJ advocates are poised to take on the fight for fair job search standards and ensure the people who are injured on the job are treated with the dignity they deserve. Public health advocates, who have valiantly helped to inform and advise our community leaders over the past year, will continue to sound the alarm on how current pandemic has pulled back the veil on a greater inequality that exists in our state and our country.

              There are advocates who have committed themselves to fighting for a more equitable criminal justice system. There are advocates who will continue to be forceful defenders of respectful debate and uphold the values of our constitutional system. There are advocates who will heed the call to support their neighbors’ well-being and be a part something greater than themselves. These advocates continue to make MAJ a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

              2020 has shown us there is never a bad time to become an advocate. Advocates will continue to provide a voice to the masses in our society who go unheard in the halls of power. As former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power once said, “All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.” As we begin this new year and this new legislative term, I am proud to bear witness to the empathy of so many of my fellow MAJ members and the brilliant advocacy work that so many people are doing every day. I am honored to be a member of this wonderful organization, and I look forward to working with you all to bring our advocacy to the Michigan House of Representatives this year.

 

Posted by: Nate Pilon on Nov 23, 2020

The Michigan Association for Justice’s number-one goal going into the 2020 Election was to remove the anti-civil justice majority on the Michigan Supreme Court that for nearly a generation had been responsible for some of the most conservative and regressive case law in the country. 

Posted by: Nate Pilon on Oct 22, 2020

Vice President Joe Biden today endorsed Bridget Mary McCormack and Elizabeth Welch for Michigan Supreme Court. 

Posted by: Nate Pilon on Oct 12, 2020

MAJ President Donna MacKenzie today blasted a move by Republicans that would only grant extended unemployment benefits if a package of COVID business immunity bills clears the Senate and is signed by the governor.

Posted by: Nate Pilon on Oct 1, 2020

This year, you have the chance to elect two strong, qualified jurists to the Michigan Supreme Court: Candidate Elizabeth Welch and sitting Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack.

Posted by: Nate Pilon on Oct 1, 2020

Early voting has started, and we need you to help get the word out about Supreme Court candidates Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Elizabeth Welch, along with all of our endorsed judicial and legislative candidates. Here's how you can help: 

Posted by: Nate Pilon on Sep 10, 2020

The Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) today announced its 2020 candidate general election endorsements for the Michigan House of Representatives and local judicial seats.  

Posted by: Nate Pilon on Sep 10, 2020

The Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) today announced its 2020 general election endorsements. 


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