Your Grandfather's Bar Association Feed

TBT: Oh, The Horror of Broadcasting Court Proceedings (1937)

ThinkstockPhotos-511135015"Eyes on the Courts 2015," a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress last week, would mandate broadcast and video coverage of U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate court proceedings. The constitutionality of such legislation is an open question. The bill provides that the chief justice and the chief judges of the appeals courts could close particular proceedings to cameras if broadcast would "violate the due process rights of a party to the proceeding or is otherwise not in the interests of justice." The reasons for the closure would have to be published at least 72 hours before the proceeding.

A bipartisan letter signed last June by 16 members of Congress finessed the constitutional separation of power issue by asking the Chief Justice to voluntarily provide for live audio broadcasts of U.S. Supreme Court proceedings in advance of the announcement of the blockbuster cases decided that month:

We applaud the Court’s efforts to increase transparency by requiring the release of same-day transcripts and end-of-the-week audio. We are also encouraged by the recent decision to release same-day audio in some limited cases. These efforts demonstrate that the Court has the capability to release live audio. The enhanced transparency that would come from live audio broadcasts of public proceedings would allow people to better understand how our third branch of government operates and more closely track the many important cases that are decided.

We continue to believe that the Court should permit live video broadcasts and support bipartisan legislation to make that happen. We look forward to a debate about the merits of permitting cameras in the Court. In the meantime, the Court should immediately permit live audio broadcasts of its proceedings.

The idea of transparency in court proceedings was abhorrent in the early years of the State Bar of Michigan.  From the Michigan State Bar Journal, November 1937:

A written complaint was filed complaining of broad­ casting of trials and proceedings in Traffic Courts in the City of Detroit, with a request to determine whether such broadcasting constituted a violation of judicial ethics.

Opinion: It  was the opinion of the Committee, after public hearings had been had concerning this important question, that based upon Opinion 67 of the Ethics Committee of the American Bar Association and the recent opinion under date of December 2, 1936,of the Committee on Professional  Ethics and Grievances of the American Bar Association in connection with the so-called "Good-Will Court" sponsored by a national broadcaster, that  such  broadcasts  are unfair to the defendant and to the witnesses; that the natural embarrassment and confusion of a citizen on trial should not be increased by a realization that his voice and his difficulties are being used as entertainment for a vast radio audience. It was also felt that such broadcasts are unfair to the judge, who should be permitted to devote his undivided attention to the case, unmindful of the effect which his comments or decision may have upon the radio audience. The Committee therefore ruled that such broadcasting of traffic trials, as well as the broadcasting of other types of  trials of  court proceedings, is unethical.

16 Mich. St. B.J. 544-550 (1937)

TBT 1963 Edition

1963.4.comic.lawyerswivesAt this year's Annual Meeting Lori Buiteweg will be sworn in as the 81st President of the State Bar. Don't miss it. She will be the sixth woman to serve as State Bar president.

The Lawyers' Wives of Michigan was formed during the 1956 State Bar Annual Meeting to foster entertainment for the spouses of lawyers attending the meeting, and was formally approved by the Board of Commissioners the following year. The group has since evolved into the community-oriented affinity association, Michigan Lawyers Auxiliary, open to all spouses of Michigan lawyers.

TBT: Fraud is So Much More Efficient These Days

The Bogus Estate 162783_1786164851184_3075644_n


A new type of racket, in which attorneys play a key although completely innocent part, has recently been uncovered by several of my lawyer acquaintances. The plan involves plausible facts and is of such a nature that, even though suspicions may be aroused immediately, the same are likewise allayed because no particular harm can be foreseen. The cautious natures and capabilities of the attorneys involved indicate the scheme can be worked very easily upon any lawyer. It follows these general lines:

A young, well-dressed couple visit the attorney about 9:00 a.m. and request his assistance in probating the estate of the husband's deceased brother. According to the husband, his brother
died in Portland, Maine, leaving the 
bulk of his estate in that jurisdiction. 
That fact is verified by a purported true
 copy of excerpts of the documents filed
in the estate, among which is the inventory. This latter indicates a sizeable 
estate of six figures, including two 
apartment houses, high-value corporate
 stock, etc. The matter having arisen 
suddenly, the husband states that he
 must conclude pressing business matters which precludes any immediate lengthy consultation. Making an appointment for the following day, and leaving the documents for examination, the visitors depart. That afternoon a telephone call is received in the attorney's office, the caller inquiring about the estate. The secretary verifies the visit, but, naturally, indicates her inability to disclose the nature thereof. The caller implies he is making a loan on the basis of the inheritance. When informed of the call, the attorney notes the same for discussion with the new clients the next day.

On the following day, while waiting for the couple to arrive, the attorney examines the documents left with him and observes a few discrepancies. Becoming apprehensive because of the telephone call on the preceding day, and because of the failure of the new clients to return, the logically suspicious attorney decides to visit the address furnished by the couple, and is on his way. Upon arrival, he perceives a lot as vacant as the proverbial sophomore's head. At once he returns to his office and swings into action by calling the Probate Court at Portland, Maine. He is informed that many inquiries have been received in regard to the estate, that it is non-existent and that the whole matter is obviously a hoax. Naturally, the couple never returns. It is speculation, of course, since no known complaints were ever made, but, knowing the propensities of the ordinary layman and, especially since the visit with an attorney of excellent reputation in the community was verified, the general conclusion is that the loan was made. I wonder what the interest rate was! 

Photograph, 1951: Not the fraudulent couple, but my aunt, Janet Lewis Hoffmann, and her husband, Jack Hoffmann, in 1951. Both were well-known photographic models in that era. 

TBT: Your Grandfather's Bar Association

Henry_M._BatesCreating the best legal future requires understanding the past. To that end, every Thursday BLF Blog will publish excerpts from our own Michigan Bar Journal and other bar association historical documents. Some of these excerpts will require no comment. Not so today's TBT post from the 1926 Michigan State Bar Journal, a 12-page article by Henry M. Bates, dean of the University of Michigan law school from 1910-1939. For perspective, Bates died in 1949, the same year that SBM member John W. Reed joined the faculty.

Many of Bates's themes remain hot topics today -- what should be taught in law schools and why, how long it should take, the significance of lawyers' work to society, the need for continuing education, the impact of scientific developments. To my ears, Bates' certitude is jarring, as ours will likely be to future generations. (It's startling, too, to see the word "pathetic" used in connection with Abraham Lincoln). But Bates' optimism is captivating. What's missing from his thoughts on legal education in 1926 (three years away from the stock market collapse of 1929) is also noteworthy -- no analysis of the economics of legal education and no attention to access to legal services, much less to open access to a legal education.

For those of you who don't have time to read the whole disquisition on legal education, here are a few excerpts illustrating how some of today's themes were treated nearly a century ago:

Training. Less than forty years ago few schools had a course of study lasting more than two years. Today practically no school grants its degree for less than three years of study and in at least a dozen work is offered with a student would need from four to six years to cover. But of course we cannot ask our law students to give six years to the study of law before beginning its practice. The only solution of the problem suggested has been a great increase in the quantity and quality of work required of the student during his three year period and a resort to the elective scheme of study. Under the elective system the student takes all of the basic and more important subjects, such as contracts, property, pleading, equity, and constitutional law, and in addition a prescribed quantum from the derivative subjects, such as sales, and from the subjects of minor practical importance. 


Collaboration. There has been wide-spread and earnest discussion throughout the country during the last two or three years concerning the administration of criminal justice. That we are failing to deal adequately with crime, and with tragic consequences, is clear to any open-minded person. Most of the remedies proposed have been mere nostrums or at best but a tinkering with the minor machinery of criminal. justice. There is not the slightest hope that we shall even have a plan whereby the problem may be adequately dealt with, unless competent men make an adequate study of the innumerable elements that enter into the crime situation. This is not a work which could be adequately performed by a commission of men busy chiefly with other things, directed by the authorizing law to report a code within a few months. If we were to deal with this problem as intelligently and practically as the United States Steel Corporation, or the American Telephone and Telegraph Company deal with their problems, we would enlist the cooperation and efforts of the able judges and lawyers, police experts, sociologists, criminologists, psychiatrists, biologists, and statisticians.


Facts and Reason. It is an astounding thing that money by the millions and the unstinted efforts of able and devoted men have for generations been available for the study of problems in medicine, engineering, chemistry, physics, and in many applied sciences and arts, and yet that no financial aid to speak of, and little trained ability, have been available for the study of that scheme of things which we call the law, at least in any adequate and scientific way. Yet it is undeniable that a sound scheme of law is absolutely essential to the continued existence of civilization and to the proper functioning of medicine, engineering, chemistry, and the other sciences and arts which have been so generously aided. But now the need of similar aid for the study of our great legal problems is beginning to be appreciated.


The Pace of Change.  No one I presume would deny that the age in which we live is characterized by the most rapid, the most comprehensive, and the most revolutionary changes the human race has known, and that the process is continuing at an ever accelerating pace. 


Optimism. It is the firm conviction of those who have given most thought to the possibilities of the kind of legal investigation which I have described, that some such work, if carried on with sufficient energy and wisdom and with adequate financial aid, will ultimately lead to an improved adjustment of human affairs and relations and a sounder system of social control, from which benefits of incalculable value will accrue.

And finally, there's this time-tested wisdom:

A curious trait of human nature, and one which we all share in greater or less measure, is a tendency to look with suspicion upon any proposed change in the scope, methods, or conduct of the training in the preparation for life which we ourselves have had.