Blog Posts For The Week Of September 13, 2014 Through September 19, 2014

Justice Brian Zahra, Hockey Player, Blackjack Player, Stoner
By John Lindstrom

Posted: September, 19 2014 11:23 AM

On the Supreme Court bench, Justice Brian Zahra portrays a sober, dry fellow speaking a sonorous monotone.

In the online videos he’s produced for his campaign for re-election to the court, Mr. Zahra has also revealed he is a hockey player, hockey coach, been at the tables in Las Vegas and is a serious Stoner. In fact, has played blackjack with one of the Stones.

To learn all this, however, one has to stay focused since Mr. Zahra imparts this hot info in the same flat, sonorous, monotone he employs while asking a litigant questions on, say, easements for a septic field.

The videos are part of his Ask Justice Zahra effort on YouTube and Facebook. In recent editions, he’s veered from answering questions about how the court works to getting more personal, in a monotonal way.

In one video, he’s in a locker room, wearing a coach’s jacket, saying his best moment on ice was as an assistant coach to his son’s junior hockey team which won its tournament, and then segueing that into talking about his family coming together – including his grandfather coming from Malta – to watch him being sworn in as a judge in 1995.

He ends that video a little awkwardly, putting on a helmet to handle a coaching session.

His latest video has a touch of the absurd all about it. Here is Mr. Zahra, in a powder blue sport shirt, sitting in a chair in what we presume is his home, with a dog (we presume his, though he never tells us the pooch’s name) very calmly, very dryly, very flatly though with a touch of growing enthusiasm, responding to a question about which band is his favorite.

It’s the Rolling Stones, he says. Now he likes modern pop and rhythm and blues, and a lot of blues bands, but classic rock is his favorite genre and the Stones is his band. He saw them first as a teenager at Cobo Hall, and then as he grew older would see them in venues “outside the city of Detroit.”

One his favorite stories, he said, is in the 1990s going to Las Vegas with his then fiancée, now wife, Sue, to see the Stones at the MGM Grand.

Then they were playing blackjack quite late, when, Mr. Zahra calmly informs us, “We were quite surprised” when Stones guitar master Ron Wood showed up at the table and played blackjack with them.

“That was very entertaining, a lot of fun and a great memory,” Mr. Zahra says as the sound of the Stones comes up.

You know, if Mr. Zahra had done Mick Jagger’s rooster walk in his robes, this video would have killed. Just sayin’.

A Two-Person Poll And Why Were There Binders Full Of Women?
By John Lindstrom

Posted: September, 18 2014 12:16 PM

From the stage where a then unknown Irish band named U2 once played, a panel of political campaign experts spoke to journalists and political types about campaigning and some of the interesting things that can occur, like getting stopped by cops and reminding presidential candidates about binders and women.

Ken Brock for the Democrats along with Katie Packer Gage and Dan Pero for the Republicans spoke at a function called Tales from the Trail, sponsored by the Michigan Press Association, MLive and the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, held at Harpers in East Lansing, and shared the common experiences of total saturation in a campaign and complete belief in a candidate and a candidate’s message.

There was also some moaning, mostly about reporters (what do politicians know anyway?), but possibly the most interesting stories had to do with two moments in two separate campaigns,

First, binders full of women. Remember that? No, it has nothing to do with some lothario’s giant black book. It had to do with the awkward way in which, during one of the 2012 presidential debates, former Massachusetts Governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney described the process used to identify women to serve in his cabinet. Here is video of the moment:

The comment became one of the hallmarks of the campaign, used by critics to argue that Mr. Romney was out of touch and even belittling.

Ms. Gage was deputy campaign manager to the Romney presidential campaign, and she said Mr. Romney had a habit of repeating information that was recently told him. That created some headaches for campaign staff both to be sure Mr. Romney was fully briefed and that they didn’t create a problem for him.

As they were doing debate preparation for his appearance with President Barack Obama, the issue of pay equity was discussed. One staff member reminded Mr. Romney that he had been presented with binders listing women who met the qualifications for his cabinet, Ms. Gage said.

Well, the rest, as often is said, is history.

The second moment was what Mr. Pero called the “two-person poll.”

It happened in the 1990 gubernatorial campaign when then-Sen. John Engler upset former Governor James Blanchard. Mr. Pero was Mr. Engler’s campaign manager and the campaign decided not to do internal polling.

The two were headed for a speaking engagement in Macomb County and Mr. Engler was driving. He liked driving himself during the campaign, Mr. Pero said. Mr. Pero did not add, though he didn’t need to, that Mr. Engler also liked to drive fast.

In the rearview mirror appeared two motorcycle cops.

Great, Mr. Pero said, now they were going to be late for their event. Mr. Engler pulled the car over, and the two cops approached, one on either side.

Mr. Engler lowered the window and the cop on the driver’s side said, “Excuse me, are you Sen. Engler?”

“Yes,” Mr. Engler said.

“We thought so,” the cop said. “We just wanted to tell you that we’re voting for you.”

Mr. Pero said based on that “two-person poll” Mr. Engler and he knew they would win.

The Game’s Afoot: Holmes Goes To The U.S. Supreme Court
By John Lindstrom

Posted: September, 16 2014 2:16 PM

Since he first told John Watson that he had been in Afghanistan, Sherlock Holmes has been arguably the most recognized figure in literature, appearing in films, television, radio, and in new characterizations that have made him everything from a time traveler to an alien. Now, Michigan’s former solicitor general is hoping Holmes will get his day before the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Bursch, now with Warner, Norcross and Judd in Grand Rapids, was no stranger to the country’s highest court, arguing several cases on behalf of the state. But it is unlikely that before this his client has been a fictional character.

Actually, Mr. Bursch’s client is the family of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and he and his colleagues have filed a motion for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal.

Earlier this year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all of the Sherlock Holmes stories were now in the public domain. That includes the last 10 stories which were published from 1922 to 1927. U.S. copyright law extends copyright for 95 years, and that has been challenged, in some respects, by authors and film studios that have created new publications that refer to the originals in an attempt to extend the copyright.

The decision gained more attention in the United Kingdom where Holmes and Watson solved cases from their digs at 221B Baker Street in London (real street, the address wasn’t, it’s now a popular tourist attraction).

The issue came up because author Leslie Klinger was editing a new edition of Holmes stories and the Doyle family wanted assurances he would pay it royalties. The family argued the characters became rounder in the last stories. Conservative judicial superstar Judge Richard Posner wrote the decision, asking essentially what flat or round characters have to do with copyright law.

In a release, Mr. Bursch argued that the Mr. Klinger should file a document assuring that his work does not infringe on the intellectual property owned by the Doyle family. That is fair and reasonable, he said, and in effect is, ahem, elementary.

Historical Note: Michigan’s First Female U. S. Representative
By John Lindstrom

Posted: September, 15 2014 3:26 PM

Monday marks the 127th birth of Ruth Thompson, Michigan’s first woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ms. Thompson was active in state, local and national politics. Arguably the most noted graduate of the Muskegon Business College, she became a lawyer following graduation in 1905.

She became a probate judge in 1925 where she gained attention for her efforts in promoting juvenile justice. After leaving the court in 1937, she was elected as a Republican to one term in Legislature.

During the 1940s, Ms. Thompson was in Washington, D.C., working with the Social Security Board, the U.S. Department of Labor and also serving in the U.S. Adjutant General’s office.

Back home in the Muskegon area she won election the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1950 election. She was the first woman in Congress from Michigan, though she would be joined later that decade by Democrat Martha Griffiths, who would gain fame for getting women recognized in the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Ms. Thompson’s congressional career was probably most noted for a 1954 bill she backed to ban mailing phonograph records that were considered “obscene, lewd, lascivious or filthy.” The bill was considered aimed at the new art form of rock and roll, though anyone knowing anything about the typical subject matter of opera might have been able to make the same point on anything Verdi or Puccini wrote.

In 1956, she lost her primary re-election bid to a person who would cast a longer shadow over Michigan politics, Robert Griffin (no, not the quarterback), who later went on to become the U.S. Senate minority whip and then served on the Supreme Court.

After her defeat, Ms. Thompson returned to Michigan. She died in 1970.

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