By John Wisely and L.L. Brasier
Detroit Free Press Staff Writers
With his docket already under scrutiny by a higher court, Novi District Judge Brian MacKenzie’s troubles may be deepening with the FBI now reviewing a case in which a drunken-driving suspect was Tasered by police and then later pressured to drop a related lawsuit, the Free Press has learned.
According to sources close to the case, the FBI has obtained a copy of an audio recording, made secretly in MacKenzie’s chambers four years ago, in which the judge can be heard telling defense attorney Timothy Corr to “give up the civil suit and I can get you something decent.”
Several legal experts, who either listened to the audio recording from MacKenzie’s chambers or reviewed a transcript of it, say what MacKenzie did was improper because judges are supposed to remain neutral.
“It’s the lawyer’s job to represent the client,” said professor Steven Lubet, who teaches legal ethics at Northwestern University. “A judge should not be taking sides and certainly lenient treatment in a sentence should not be dependent on giving up a civil right.”
Corr was representing a man contemplating suing police for civil rights violations after an officer Tasered him for no apparent reason, following a drunken-driving arrest.
Corr said he made the recording after a previous meeting in which he said the judge offered to waive jail time for his client, Marquin Stanley of Redford, if he agreed not to sue Walled Lake police.
Corr provided a copy of the secret audio recording to the Free Press. The FBI also sought and obtained a recording from Corr late last month, according to sources familiar with the inquiry.
Jeff Downey, supervisor of the Troy office of the FBI, told the Free Press he could neither confirm nor deny his office was investigating the handling of the Marquin Stanley case.
MacKenzie has denied any wrongdoing.
The tape is the latest in a string of troubles for MacKenzie.
Oakland County Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brienbegan supervising part of MacKenzie’s docketin February after prosecutors complained he was running a rogue court, handing down illegal sentences and making backroom deals with defense attorneys without notifying prosecutors.
O’Brien ruled that MacKenzie had violated the law in at least eight instances, including a domestic violence case that he dismissed without consulting the victim or prosecutor, then sealed in violation of state law.
He has also come under scrutiny for a nonprofit group he heads, a statewide organization of drug court professionals, which pays his wife almost $40,000 a year to work part-time from home. Corporate sponsors of the group include private drug and alcohol testing companies that MacKenzie routinely orders defendants to use.
Booking room video
The Free Press first reported on the Stanley case in February, after he contacted reporters and said MacKenzie had tried to force him to give up the police brutality suit in 2010. Stanley said MacKenzie jailed him when he refused to drop the lawsuit, which Corr eventually settled in federal court when police agreed to pay Stanley $150,000.
In the booking room video from January 2010, an officer can be seen Tasering Stanley from behind as he empties out his pockets, sending him crashing into a bench, then to the floor.
■ Watch the video: Booking room video (graphic content)
As Stanley convulses on the floor, the officer kicks him. Stanley required medical treatment for head and back injuries.
MacKenzie told the Free Press in February that he never pressured Corr or Stanley to drop the lawsuit. He also denied ever having conversations with Walled Lake police in his chambers over the Tasering or the pending police brutality suit.
Following MacKenzie’s public denial, Corr provided the audio recording to the Free Press. It records MacKenzie having a 14-minute discussion in chambers with Corr, Walled Lake police, and an Oakland County assistant prosecutor. At various times, the judge can be heard telling Corr to get Stanley to agree not to sue in exchange for his freedom.
“Give up the civil suit,” MacKenzie can be heard saying to Corr. “Give up the civil suit. Give up the civil suit and I can get you something decent.”
Later on the recording, MacKenzie said he wants the suit dropped to spare the police and city of Walled Lake the “hassle” and expense of a lawsuit, and offers to release Stanley from jail that day if he’ll agree. He consults with Walled Lake Police Detective Paul Schneider and Wixom Police Sgt. Shannon Luther, who were present in his chambers.
“This guy gave you trouble, right?” MacKenzie asks Schneider, referring to Stanley.
“Right,” Schneider said.
MacKenzie tells Corr, “The issue is whether they are going to go through the hassle of it, and whether the city of Walled Lake is going to have to put up with the cost of the attorney.
“The offer on the table is, if he agrees that he’s not going to sue the police department over the R&O, (resisting and obstructing) they are willing to dismiss the R&O. I think that’s a quite a good offer.”
At the time of the recording, Stanley was serving 93 days for violating probation.
“He can get out today,” MacKenzie says on tape.
Stanley and Corr refused the deal and Stanley remained jailed three more weeks.
The Free Press provided MacKenzie with a transcript of the recording.
MacKenzie would not answer questions attempting to reconcile his previous denials with the contents of the tape.
He did release a statement through his attorney, Louis Porter. The transcript makes clear “that Judge MacKenzie’s motivation in telling Mr. Stanley’s counsel that Mr. Stanley should consider agreeing to forego a potential civil suit was based on his desire to place Mr. Stanley in sobriety court,” Porter wrote. “Being placed in sobriety court would not only have allowed him to avoid further jail time on three new pending charges but would also would have given him to have a meaningful opportunity to achieve sobriety.”
Corr said he made the recording because he was stunned by MacKenzie’s conduct in a previous private in-chambers meeting during which MacKenzie did the same thing.
“I felt like I had to take this step because, how else to get to the truth of it?” Corr said. “Somebody has got to stand up for what’s right and that’s what I did here.”
The recording raises new questions not only about MacKenzie, but also police and an assistant prosecutor, Peter Menna, who were present when it was made. It also offers a look at the sometimes messy world of plea negotiations, which typically happen out of sight. And it is not clear what, if any, consequences MacKenzie might face.
Experts on civil rights violations and judicial ethics say that if MacKenzie was indeed lobbying on behalf of the city and police to avoid a lawsuit, he was violating judicial canons that dictate how judges behave.
“I think the judge’s pitching the prosecution’s offer is too close to the line for me,” said Michael Martin, a professor at Fordham Law School and an expert on judicial ethics and police brutality. “I think judges should avoid the appearance of partiality and err on relying on the defense lawyer to counsel the client properly without such a heavy judicial hand.”
Martin said it was not clear what the FBI might be pursuing in the case, but that MacKenzie has broad protections as a sitting judge.
“Judges generally have absolute immunity from civil liability when they act in a judicial capacity, even when their actions violate the constitution,” Martin said.
Martin also viewed the video of Stanley being Tasered.
“I am not privy to all of the circumstances, but there is no doubt that a reasonable jury could find, based on the video alone, that the Tasering was unreasonable given the victim does not appear to pose any immediate threat to the officers and the victim does not appear to be actively resisting arrest,” Martin said in an e-mail to the Free Press.
Video contradicts police
Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said she decided early on that that Stanley would not face resisting and obstructing charges — a felony charge the police were seeking — after seeing the Taser video.
Yet, her assistant prosecutor, on the audio recording, appears to be siding with MacKenzie and police in urging Stanley to not sue in exchange for not facing felony resisting and obstructing charges.
“They (police) want to make sure … if we’re going to get sued, we want to press this to the fullest extent, obviously, because we want ourselves protected and I can understand their position,” Menna can be heard on the recording, telling Corr in the hallway. “On the other hand, if we’re not going to get sued, we’re willing to work a deal with this guy.”
Menna declined to comment and referred questions to Cooper’s office. Cooper reviewed a transcript of the audio recording earlier this month and said she was disappointed in Menna, but chocked it up to inexperience.
“I was not pleased with some of the recorded statements of my young assistant prosecutor,” she said in a written response, noting that her office would never negotiate a criminal charge in an attempt to get a defendant to drop a civil suit. “But once again, he did as he was trained to do and brought it back to his supervisors who informed him that neither the police nor the office would pursue an additional charge of resisting and obstructing.”
And Cooper, a former circuit court and appellate judge had strong words for MacKenzie: “The black robe doesn’t vest someone with intelligence but it should vest them with humility and respect for the people who come before them,” she said.
For police, the video recording in the booking room directly contradicts their written reports, which stated that Stanley “squared off” and threatened Walled Lake Police Officer Jason Tront, prompting the Tasering.
Tront is no longer with Walled Lake police and didn’t respond to requests for an interview made to his new employer, Redford Township police. Detective Schneider retired from the department and didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
Legal ethics experts said MacKenize’s conduct can make him appear to be an advocate for the police and the city of Walled Lake, a position that strikes at the integrity of the criminal justice system, the neutrality of the judge.
“In a plea bargain or any type of settlement, you don’t want the judge’s coercive authority involved. Then the judge become another prosecutor and you lose the neutrality of the court that is the whole basis of the criminal justice system,” said Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at Wayne State University, who listened to the tape and reviewed a transcript.
Henning said he doubted MacKenzie’s actions were illegal, but said the state’s Judicial Tenure Commission is likely to review them.
“The standard for judges is the appearance of impropriety,” Henning said.
Prosecutors have declined to say whether they have complained to the Judicial Tenure Commission about MacKenzie. Investigations by the commission are not public record until a formal complaint is filed.
Judges often encourage settlement of cases, sometimes by pushing, said professor Charles Gardner Geyh, an ethics expert at Indiana University Law School.
“The judge may think in this case, cooperation means dropping your beef with them and we’ll drop our beef with you,” he said. “It’s not a slam dunk. I’m not willing to say it’s obviously wrong, but it makes me very uneasy.”
Geyh said that judges are obligated to always conduct themselves in a way that promotes confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.
The first paragraph of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct notes that judges “should personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.”
FBI sting shows San Francisco Chinatown underworld
Associated Press By GARANCE BURKE
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Beneath the strings of red paper lanterns and narrow alleyways of the nation’s oldest Chinatown lies a sinister underworld, according to an FBI criminal complaint that has stunned even those familiar with the neighborhood’s history of gambling houses, opium dens and occasional gangland-style murders.
The federal charges, which allege a California lawmaker accepted money and campaign donations in exchange for providing official favors and helping broker an arms deal, cast harsh light on Chinatown’s tight-knit network of fraternal organizations and one of its most shadowy characters, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who appeared in federal court on Friday in handcuffs and shackles.
Investigators say Chow is the leader — the dragonhead — of one of the most powerful Asian gangs in North America. Chow’s gang is said to have lured state Sen. Leland Yee into its clutches through money and campaign contributions in exchange for legislative help, as Yee sought to build his campaign coffers to run for California secretary of state.
In court Friday, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Falk told a judge that Chow would have to find other legal representation. She cited potential conflicts of interest involving previous cases, but did not elaborate. Chow did not enter a plea, and the hearing was continued until Monday.
Born in Hong Kong in 1960, Chow came to the United States at 16 and was reportedly nicknamed “Shrimp Boy” by his grandmother, in part due to his small stature.
After dropping out of high school, Chow rose within the ranks of the local Hop Sing Tong gang after he and his crew survived a 1977 shooting at a Chinatown restaurant that left five dead and about a dozen injured.
Chow then spent a few years inside San Quentin Prison for a robbery conviction, and after his release, started working with the Hong Kong-based Wo Hop To triad, one of numerous Chinese underground societies linked to organized crime. Chow has acknowledged that as a gang leader, he ran prostitution rings, smuggled drugs and extorted thousands of dollars from business owners in the 1980s.
“He was given like an unofficial position of being a leader, but to say he was sophisticated, no. He was more like a forceful brute,” said Ignatius Chinn, a former California Department of Justice agent who spent years investigating Chow in the early 1990s. “If he didn’t get his way, he would just beat the door down and that was how we put cases on him.”
Although he ultimately was convicted of gun charges and sentenced to 25 years to life in the 1990s, Chow cut a deal to win release and returned to Chinatown several years ago, pledging to stay straight. His work with at-risk youth soon won accolades from prominent politicians. But the complaint alleges that Chow used his position heading the Ghee Kung Tong to launder money, receive and transport stolen property and traffic in contraband cigarettes during a FBI sting.
Longtime residents and observers said the startling allegations revealed the continued presence of organized crime in the popular tourist attraction, home to one of the largest Chinese communities outside Asia.
“Chinatown is a very safe place and usually the crime you hear about there is just robberies and people being taken advantage of,” said Joseph Leung, editor for the San Francisco edition of The Sing Tao Daily, the largest circulation Chinese newspaper in the U.S.
The pre-dawn FBI raid Wednesday at the Ghee Kung Tong’s office, next to a massage parlor and across from a benevolent society where elderly people play mahjong, also brought into focus its centuries-old history. The tong was founded in the late 1800s to support immigrants from the Pearl Delta region.
Amid morning rain showers, federal agents and fire crews stormed the building armed with a circular saw and Jaws of Life to crack a safe that authorities say was at least a century old.
The organization is among dozens of active tongs, or family associations, in Chinatown. Chow assumed control when its former president, Allen Leung, was shot to death at his import-export store in 2006, said David Lee, director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee.
“He kind of became like a gangster celebrity. He was on parole, he had an ankle bracelet and he became a fixture at political events for a while,” said Lee, who also teaches political science at San Francisco State University.
The 137-page complaint, whose many twists are reminiscent of “American Hustle,” does not reveal whether Yee had ties to Chow before the FBI got involved.
Yee, a progressive Democrat born in China, built his political fortune partly through Chinatown connections and had never lost a race until his failed bid for San Francisco mayor in 2011.
A few years before that, Chow’s own political star began rising. Around 2008, he began talking to youth about how to stay on the straight and narrow, said Rudy Corpuz Jr., executive director of the youth-led violence prevention organization United Playaz.
“When he had that life, he was somebody you wouldn’t mess with. And he’s little so people were like, ‘Damn, that little guy had that much power?” said Corpuz Jr., who said Chow’s redemption story helped change hundreds of young lives for the good.
Soon, the awards started coming. Chow was lauded by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee for his community work. He posted pictures of himself on Facebook with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
All the while he was running a criminal operation, according to documents.
Several years ago, undercover FBI agents assigned to Chow infiltrated the organization, and ultimately snared Yee and his campaign consultant Keith Jackson. Jackson also appeared in court Friday, but did not enter a plea.
“Sometimes cases like this start with a big noise and end quietly,” Jackson’s attorney, Jim Brosnahan, said in a statement Friday.
The three were arrested during Wednesday’s raids in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area, which also netted additional tong members.
Yee, free on $500,000 bail, withdrew Thursday from the race for secretary of state, and on Friday, fellow senators voted to suspend him. Chow was denied bail because he was deemed a flight risk and a danger to the public. Jackson was denied bail, too.
Yee’s allies questioned why the senator had been targeted in the elaborate sting and cautioned that he was innocent until proven guilty.
“Leland always told me to be careful about taking money from the family associations, because you never know where the money is coming from. This kind of flies in the face of what he has told me,” said Wayne Lee, a Yee protege who is mayor of the nearby suburb of Millbrae. “He’s always been a champion for the downtrodden. I am hoping that he will be vindicated.”
With Republicans and Democrats scrambling to work on a budget that may alleviate part of the $85 billion in sequester cuts, a new report from the Government Accountability Office should elicit debate over program funding and how to the administration can avoid unnecessary overhead. The 283 page annual report highlights 31 areas that the government can cut down on costs, spanning thousands of programs that fit the definition of “fragmentation, overlap, and duplication”.
Departments often have multiple programs that serve similar purposes, or that have been split up—fragmented—into smaller administrations. This leads to hundreds of disorganized programs spending money towards the same group of goals. GAO officials offer suggestions within the report, such as merging auditors and collaborating on information collection to avoid inaccurate data.
Some highlights from the report include 76 programs for drug abuse, in which the Department of Homeland Security uses five separate contracts to detect the same substance, at a $4.5 billion dollar cost. Other sections question the Department of Defense for spending over $5 billion on 7 military camouflage uniforms, instead of the previous standard of 2.
Yet the biggest offender appears to be renewable energy programs, of which the GAO identified 679 initiatives that were either overlapping or unnecessary.
For the read diehards 2 hours talking about redundant programs.
Read the whole article on Townhall.com
Appalling (via ABC 6 WVPI):
A local abortion clinic is under fire, facing allegations of unsafe and unsanitary conditions. A series of emergency calls made from the Planned Parenthood of Delaware this year are raising concerns about what’s happening behind the closed doors. Two former nurses who both quit are speaking exclusively with Action News about what they saw inside. ayne Mitchell-Werbrich, former employee said, “It was just unsafe. I couldn’t tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was.”Werbrich alleges conditions inside the facility were unsanitary. “He didn’t wear gloves,” said Werbrich. Another former employee, Joyce Vasikonis told Action News, “They were using instruments on patients that were not sterile.” The former nurses claim that a rush to get patients in and out left operating tables soiled and unclean. Werbrich said “It’s not washed down, it’s not even cleaned off. It has bloody drainage on it.” “They could be at risk of getting hepatitis, even AIDS,” added Vasikonis. Both of these nurses said, they quit to protect their own medical licenses, stunned by what they called a meat-market style of assembly-line abortions.
Another relevant fact:
In Delaware, abortion clinics are not subject to routine inspections. The state only steps in when they have a patient complaint. Planned Parenthood is essentially in charge of inspecting itself.
Such is the case in many states, where elements of the pro-choice movement fight tooth and nail to block efforts to regulate these clinics more strictly, in accordance with medical standards of most hospitals. Meanwhile, the Gosnell trial continues in Philadelphia, where more horrifying details about the accused serial killer’s “abortion clinic” emerge with each passing day. (Warning: Those last two links are heartbreaking and brutal). Gosnell’s string of murders finally came to light when he killed an adult patient, too, and the prosecution is relying on whiste-blowers employed by the “doctor” to secure his conviction. Now we have two whistle-blowing nurses willing to describe the third-world “meat-market” conditions in their Delaware Planned Parenthood clinic. How many more Planned Parenthood abortion mills operate this way? This is an organization that receives nine figures in taxpayer funding each year, and whose officials defend infanticide in public, under oath:
The media blackout on both that skin-crawling performance and the Gosnell massacre has been extraordinary. We’re often told that there’s no such thing as liberal media bias; the press is just biased toward conflict and sensationalism. I’m not sure how much more sensationalistic the Gosnell trial could get. Blood, gore, severed heads, severed feet in jars, “aliens,” and a remorseless serial killer. Not interested, say the vast majority of America’s journalists. Hmm. It’s almost as if they’d prefer to ignore stories that are inconvenient to the causes they hold dear. Meanwhile, women and babies are suffering in macabre, unsanitary dens of death. “Safe, legal and rare,” has been the Democrats’ mantra for years. They’ve recently dropped “rare.” It seems “safe” is an afterthought, too, when push comes to shove. The paramount element is “legal.”
To ask a 5 year old…. what a joke!! the left has NO SHAME! To make it worse she was leading her to the answer she wanted. I guess she had to speak to someone who is on the same intellectual level.
Deep Thoughts: MSNBC Asks Five-Year-Old About Gay Marriage
These would be very cool to have…… But Gov being what it is…. And the regulations/big business influence/trial lawyers…
Gibbs Sports Amphibians’ Debbi Gibbs discusses why U.S. regulations are keeping her product off America’s roads.
With all of use hurting and the country hurting as a whole. With international problems seeming to be at an all time high, Korea threatening us with nukes. Unemployment high and a very slow economy. Our President is CAMPAIGNING! These people are giving out money like it water. This is the type of thing that makes us mad…………
“Obama launched his efforts Wednesday — after a brief stop in Denver to rally support for gun control legislation — with a cocktail reception at the home of former hedge fund manager and climate activist Tom Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor. About 100 donors paid a minimum of $5,000 to attend. The guest list was smaller for a dinner later Wednesday at another private home, but the price for attendance was higher, $32,400 — the maximum individuals may give to a national party committee per year. Israel and Pelosi joined Obama for both events.
The president will continue the fundraising blitz Thursday in the ritzy town of Atherton, where he will attend a $32,400-a-person luncheon near Stanford University, according to an invitation obtained by The Associated Press. He’ll also appear at a brunch at the home of philanthropists Marcia and John Goldman, where donors can pay $1,000 to attend or $5,000 for the chance to take a photo with the president. Both events benefit the national Democratic Party.”