Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Original Story:

Lansing — The state Department of Education unveiled an online exam Thursday that will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program starting next spring.

The new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress was developed to meet mandates set last summer by state lawmakers, who nixed plans to use a computer-adaptive test, Smarter Balanced.

State education officials said M-STEP meets all of the Legislature's requirements. It is an online assessment but has a paper-and-pencil option. The new exam is aligned to the state standards and expands writing assessments to additional grades. An Atlanta Education Lawyer has extensive experience in education law.

The new test includes a higher number of "constructed response" questions that will allow students to demonstrate skills such as problem-solving.

Thursday's action means districts can plan to administer the new exam next spring.

"This is great news for our local school districts," said state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan. "They've been very anxious to hear what the new assessment will be, as we developed a new test to comply with legislatively mandated changes." A Binghamton Education Lawyer is reviewing the details of this change.

M-STEP was developed after lawmakers derailed Smarter Balanced. That test was going to be online only. Smarter Balanced was controversial because conservatives associated it with Michigan's Common Core, which they believe threaten local control of education.

In scrapping Smarter Balanced, lawmakers ordered education officials to create a revised MEAP for 2014-15 and an entirely new exam for 2015-16.Education officials will still develop a new exam for 2015-16.

"The changes in law diverted what the department and local school districts had been developing and preparing for over the past three years," Flanagan said. "It put schools in some unwelcomed limbo while our experts scrambled to find testing content that met the legislative requirements."

The Department of Education said M-STEP will include questions developed by state officials and educators as well as some developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium of states.

The new exam will test grades 3-8 in math and English language, grades 4 and 7 in science, and grades 5 and 8 in social studies. It will include an assessment for grades 3-8 and the Michigan Merit Exam for 11th-graders.

The Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan think tank in Royal Oak, called the new assessment a promising replacement for the "antiquated" MEAP, which has been given to students for four decades.

"We know from leading education states that the path to a brighter educational future for all of our students begins with raising educational standards and implementing an aligned assessment," said Amber Arellano, executive director.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Original Story:

Southfield — The SUV driven by Kayla White when she was killed Tuesday in a fiery crash on the Lodge Freeway had been recalled because of risk of catching fire during a rear-end collision.

White was killed when her 2003 Jeep Liberty was struck from behind near Telegraph, causing it to overturn and catch fire. She died of injuries caused by flames that engulfed her car, according to the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy determined the cause of death was burns and smoke inhalation. A Milwaukee Wrongful Death Attorney is experienced in representing clients involved in wrongful death cases.

White, 23, of Ferndale was pregnant and in her third trimester at the time of the crash, according to police.

The SUV was part of a Chrysler Group LLC recall campaign last year of 1.56 million 2002-07 Jeep Libertys and 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees at risk of catching fire when struck from behind. The automaker issued the callback following a request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after an investigation found the defect was connected to 37 fatal rear-end collisions resulting in 51 deaths — including at least five fatal crashes involving Libertys that resulted in seven deaths.A Milwaukee Product Liability Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Southfield attorney Gerald Thurswell, who is representing White's family, said Friday the family is aware of the recall. He declined to answer questions about the police crash investigation and vehicle fire, but said the family is pursuing a lawsuit against the automaker.

"We're investigating a products liability case against Chrysler," he said.

Chrysler declined to comment on the White family's decision to seek counsel.

According to a search of the vehicle's VIN number through NHTSA, White's Jeep had not been fitted with a trailer hitch as a result of the recall to better protect the gas tank during collisions. It is unclear if the vehicle already had a factory-installed hitch before the recall. A Westchester County Auto Accident Lawyer represents clients involved in car accident cases in which victims have been seriously injured or killed.

The Jeep had two previous owners, according to a CarFax vehicle history report. The recall was issued while White owned the vehicle. The SUV, according to the report, was involved in a rear impact with another vehicle causing "minor to moderate damage" in 2005.

White's family members reached Friday declined to comment about Tuesday's crash, referring The Detroit News to Thurswell.

Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne, in a statement about the accident, said the company is "working with law-enforcement officials to gather the relevant facts."

The crash investigation may take four to six weeks before results are submitted to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office to determine whether charges will be filed against the 69-year-old driver who rear-ended White's vehicle, said Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw. State police declined to provide further information Friday afternoon.

It was not clear if the fire began with the fuel tank or how fast the other vehicle was traveling when it struck White's car.

Police called to the crash scene around 4:45 p.m. determined the driver of a 2002 Cadillac, a Beverly Hills man, traveling north on the Lodge was unable to stop as traffic slowed in the right lane. Police said the driver was not paying attention.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman, in a statement late Friday to The News, said the organization continues "to urge Chrysler to accelerate efforts to bring owners in to get their vehicles repaired and to ensure that parts are in stock when they do."

"It is also heartbreaking to see another victim of a distracted driver," he said. "We urge all drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."

Chrysler said Friday it had fixed or inspected nearly 130,000 vehicles since August. The company said it had more than 427,000 hitches in stock as of this week. It expects to have more than 550,000 by Dec. 1.

In July, under government pressure, Chrysler said it would be able to produce enough hitches to complete the June 2013 recall by mid-March 2015 — far faster than the original timetable of up to 4.7 years.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of Washington, D.C., advocacy group the Center for Auto Safety, said that the design of the vehicles leaves the gas tanks vulnerable in the event of a rear-end collision.

"If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, the vehicles are going to explode and you're very likely to burn to death," he said Friday.

Ditlow also said Chrysler's fix of adding a hitch may not adequately protect the fuel tank.

"Looking at the one photo I saw of (White's) Liberty, it appears that the striking vehicle went under the bumper and hit the fuel tank," he said. "All bets are off if you go under the bumper and the trailer hitch."

NHTSA opened an investigation into the Jeeps in August 2010 at the request of the Center for Auto Safety. The organization said the vehicles' gas tanks were positioned below the rear bumper and behind the rear axle, making them susceptible to rupturing and spilling gasoline in a rear-end crash.

Chrysler, at first, opposed the recall. The company last year issued a statement and three-page white paper report supporting its decision not to voluntarily recall the vehicles, saying the company did "not agree with NHTSA's conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation."

The company's analysis showed the incidents "occur less than one time for every million years of vehicle operation. Additionally, these vehicles met or exceeded all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards in place at the time they were built."

Chrysler on Friday maintained the SUVs are safe: "These vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group," it said in a statement. "Of the 26 most severe accidents cited in the NHTSA investigation and for which there is sufficient data to calculate kinetic energy, all exceeded the threshold for compliance with today's more-stringent crashworthiness regulations."

The cited regulations cover the level of integrity fuel tanks must maintain in a crash.

The automaker did move gas tanks on the Grand Cherokee in front of the rear axle in 2005, and did the same thing with the Liberty in 2007. Both moves were in connection to the vehicles being redesigned with new platforms, which automakers plan years in advance.

In Tuesday's crash, the Cadillac struck White's Jeep, forcing it into a 2014 Nissan Cube, which then struck a 2015 Lincoln MKZ as it slowed for traffic.

Police said alcohol does not appear to be a factor. No other injuries were reported.

White graduated from Ferndale High School in 2009 and was a hostess at Andiamo in Bloomfield Hills.

Her Facebook page was flooded after the crash with messages expressing shock and asking for prayers for White and her unborn baby, who White called Braedin in posts.

Visitation for Kayla White will be 2-7 p.m. Sunday, followed by a 7 p.m. service at Hopcroft Funeral Home at 31145 John R in Madison Heights.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Original Story:

ALBANY – New texting-while-driving laws take effect Saturday in New York.

The new laws increase the penalties and fines for drivers found talking or texting while driving.

Also on Saturday, new laws go into place that crack down on drunken drivers, as well as increase penalties for sex-related crimes, assaults and directing a laser point at an airplane. A Westchester County DWI Lawyer represents clients charged with felonies, misdemeanors, violations and DWI.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pushed for tougher texting laws since taking office in 2011, saying the activity is extraordinary dangerous, particularly among young drivers.

“Driving habits are developed early, and we are sending a message that texting while driving is unsafe, unacceptable and downright dangerous,” Cuomo said in a statement Friday. “There have been far too many avoidable tragedies due to texting while driving, and with these new penalties, we are seeking to change the behavior of young drivers now, and make New York’s roadways safer for all.”

Under the new driving-related laws, first-offense convictions of texting or talking while driving will impose a 120-day license or permit suspension for young drivers under 21 with junior licenses.

Young drivers also will face a one-year license or permit revocation for those who commit a second violation within six months of their license’s or permit’s restoration.

The new law increases the maximum fines for texting and talking while driving. A maximum fine for a first offense will increase from $150 to $200.

For a second offense — committed within 18 months of the previous offense — fines will increase from $200 to $250. A third violation or subsequent violations committed within 18 months will increase from $400 to $450.

The legislation was approved earlier this year by the Legislature as part of the state budget for the fiscal year that started April 1.

Last year, Cuomo and the state Legislature agreed to increase the number of points — from three to five — on a license for a conviction of cellphone use or texting violations. Drivers who receive 11 points within an 18-month period may have their licenses suspended.

Texting tickets have soared in recent years after the state moved to make it a primary offense rather than a secondary offense — so drivers could be pulled over directly for the violation.

The number of tickets jumped 83 percent between 2012 and 2013, to nearly 56,000.

As of July, 19,291 tickets were issued to drivers outside of New York City for texting while driving, compared to 23,808 tickets for all of last year.

Highway-safety advocates praised New York’s efforts.

“It’s encouraging to see the laws being strengthened, particularly on distracted driving,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Adkins said the state should be praised for rest areas on highways called texting zones, which encourage people to pull over if they need to use the phone.

“It’s not surprising that the laws are being strengthened because it’s been a pattern of leadership in New York, and other states look at New York as a leader,” he said.

Monroe County issued 1,593 texting-while-driving tickets this year and gave out 1,996 tickets in 2013.

There are also tougher DWI laws going into effect Saturday.

The new law for driving-related crimes also will increase the penalty for drivers convicted of DWI or DWAI three or more times within 15 years, making the violation a class D felony; drivers could also be fined anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. A Hudson Valley DWI Lawyer represents clients facing DWI charges.

Other laws include new penalties for public lewdness, unlawful surveillance and sexual abuse. One law broadens the charge of “assault in the second degree” to make an assault on a school crossing guard a class D felony.

Another new law creates the offense of “directing a laser at an aircraft in the second degree,” creating misdemeanor and felony charges for the act.


Original Story:

GOSHEN — A controversial new law that would allow police in Orange County to seize a defendant's property in misdemeanor drug cases moved a step forward last week.

The Public Safety Committee unanimously approved the law sought by the district attorney, David Hoovler. It would give police the authority to seize cash, phones, cars, and other property from people arrested for drugs. An Orange County DWI Lawyer represents clients charged with felonies, misdemeanors, violations and DWI.

The law had previously been withdrawn by legislators concerned about its broad nature. The law was sent back to committee by the full legislature again on Nov. 6.

The law will have a “disproportionate impact on the poor and the least well-to-do in the county," said Brett Broge, the new chair of the Orange County Democratic Party. He said Hoovler, with the support of county Executive Steve Neuhaus, is "shooting for this low-hanging fruit and attacking the poor.”

Legislator Shannon Wong (D-Goshen) says the proposed law gets the “innocent until proven guilty” basis of American law “backwards.” She said she’s worried about the burden on the accused, who will have to defend themselves twice, and about the pursuit of non-criminal defendants who obtain property as a result of a criminal transaction. Seizures could affect people's ability to get to work, she said. A Westchester Couny DWI Lawyer has managed a variety of DWI cases.

Committee chair Ken Hines (R-Cornwall) had opposed the law as initially written. "We don't want to be in the repossession business," he said. But last week, he voted with the rest of his committee members to approve it.

The initial law would have allowed assets to be seized in all misdemeanor cases, including DWI. The revised law limits seizures to drug cases.

At the meeting, Hoovler and fellow prosecutors offered to remove marijuana from the law. But Hines questioned this, and, with support from legislators John Vero (R-Chester) and Christopher Eachus (D-New Windsor), marijuana was put back in.

Legislators Melissa Bonacic (R-New Hampton), James DiSalvo (R-Highland Falls), Michael Paduch (D-Middletown), and Dennis Simmons (R-C-Port Jervis) also approved the law. Bonacic said she would have supported the broader law as originally drafted.

"I'd like to see this built up," she said.

Hoovler said the law was warranted by the high number of heroin offenses in the county.

"We intend to use it judiciously," Hoovler said.

Sussman: Threat to 'due process'

Eachus said some members of his party had concerns about the "difficulty or ease" by which defendants could get their property back. Some cases can take months to more than a year to resolve, he said.

"Sometimes, exonerating somebody who is innocent can take some time," he said.

Hoovler defended the law by saying that property can be taken as evidence now.

A "phone is evidence," Hoovler said. "The clothes you're wearing could be evidence. We may take your car" or negotiate for the fair market value of the drugs.

Eachus was satisifed.
"I thank you for doing this," he said. "I have no problem doing this."

Local defense attorney Michael Sussman said the law would challenge “fundamental due process.” Forfeiture should not begin until after a conviction has been reached or the appeals process exhausted, he said.

“It’s absolutely improper,” he said. “You could have property confiscated even if you are not a defendant.”

Qualms about 'income-generating' law

Hoovler described the law as a deterrent and “a law enforcement tool to make the community safer.” He also said forfeiture laws have been found to be a “successful revenue tool for law enforcement so that taxpayer money doesn’t have to be used."

“I don’t want the taxpayers of Orange County paying for something the criminals should be paying for," said Hoovler.

However, the law explicitly states that seizures can’t be used to supplant “ordinary departmental budget costs including salaries of personnel.” Federal forfeiture law also restricts seizures from being used to fund the salaries of enforcement personnel.

Hoovler has called that part of the law “complicated." Sussman said using seizures to fund departments is “a bit slippery.”

Berkman said his party objects to the law as “an income-generating proposal.”

The law is backed by the Police Chiefs’ Association of Orange County and Orange County Sheriff Carl DuBois, who have cited the law's revenue-generating possibilities.


Original Story:

Unpaid internships are a bit of a devil’s bargain: Every summer, college students donate their labor and time for experience in a chosen field, the chance to get noticed — and perhaps even hired.

The bad pay package is a given. But my guess is that very few interns also factor in a lack of legal protection: Under the laws of most states, including Michigan, unpaid interns are uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment or other discriminatory practices. A Memphis Sexual Harassment Lawyer is dedicated to helping victims of sexual harassment, stop the harassment and recover damages for emotional damages and physical injuries that may have occurred.

In a few notorious cases, including Lihuan Wang’s 2013 lawsuit in New York, judges refused to hear cases involving unpaid interns and sexual harassment, ruling that the interns aren’t employees and thus aren’t covered by workplace laws. A Boston Employment Attorney help businesses set up policies and systems to avoid legal problems in labor and employment matters.

Syracuse University graduate student Wang claimed she’d been ushered into a hotel room by her boss, grabbed and forcibly kissed. But she lost her day in court when the judge decided there could be no hostile work environment since she wasn’t an employee.

Even the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed that federal law against sexual harassment doesn’t apply to unpaid interns. A Memphis EEOC Lawyer represents clients facing employment rights violations.

These rulings helped pass protective laws for interns in Washington, D.C., Oregon and New York. They also outraged David Knezek, a Democratic state rep from Dearborn Heights, who was elected to the state Senate last week; and Matthew Marks, who spent last summer as an intern at a Lansing lobbying firm.

Knezek, a 28-year-old former Marine sergeant, introduced a bill. Today Marks, a Michigan State University senior, is organizing a legislative day for college students to “raise awareness” among legislators and Knezek’s bill. He expects more than 30 students to converge on the state Capitol.

“We are bringing in students from all over the state,” says Marks, who created the Michigan Equal Protections for Interns Coalition ( last summer. Knezek and staff members from other legislative offices are giving the students a crash course in how to talk to legislative staff members.

“We’re hoping to raise awareness and get the bill moving,” says Marks, a Deerfield, Illinois, native majoring in political theory and constitutional democracy. Marks, who interned for a Lansing lobbying firm last summer, is practicing what he learned. “I had a good situation,” he says, “But I’ve talked to students who say they did experience sexual harassment.”

The bill (HB 5691) amends the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Act to give equal protection under the law to volunteers and unpaid interns. “Right now, Michigan State and other universities are sending thousands of students into positions where they have no recourse,” Marks says.

Knezek applauds Marks and other students at MiEPIC. “I’ve been so impressed by their commitment. They refuse to allow someone else to make decisions for them. They’ve really become instrumental in this process and are an example for students across the state,” he told me.

Even with a law, of course, students looking for employment are unlikely to challenge their employers’ conduct. But passing a law is one way to tell employers there is no open season on interns: They’re people, too.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Original Story:

The Michigan couple at the center of the same-sex marriage debate vowed Thursday to "continue the fight" after a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the state's gay marriage ban.

"We're going to fight for the rights of our children and do whatever it takes to ensure our children have rights here in Michigan," April DeBoer, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said during a press conference Thursday evening surrounded by a room of supporters in Ferndale.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld laws prohibiting gay marriage in Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, breaking ranks with other courts that have considered the issue and setting the stage for review by the U.S.Supreme Court.

"There are so many people in Ann Arbor and Lansing who are gathering behind us saying little prayers hoping this goes forward," said Jayne Rowse, DeBoer's partner. "We are so proud to represent you."

Carole Stanyar, co-counsel for the couple, said the U.S. Supreme Court could decide as soon as January whether to hear their appeal, which she plans to file in two weeks.

Stanyar, who argued the case before the appeals court in August, said the Michigan case could be precendent-setting for the country because it has gone to trial.

The three-judge appellate panel split 2-1 with Judge Jeffrey Sutton writing the majority opinion.

Sutton said it was pointless "to invalidate laws every time a new and allegedly better way of addressing a policy emerges."

Judge Deborah Cook concurred.

Dissenting Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, who made her support of same-sex marriage known during the trial, slammed Sutton and Cook for taking what she called a "wait and see" approach, noting women still wouldn't have equal rights if other courts had adopted similar reasoning.

"If we in the judiciary do not have the authority, and indeed the responsibility, to right fundamental wrongs left excused by a majority of the electorate, our whole intricate, constitutional system of checks and balances, as well as the oaths to which we swore, prove to be nothing but shams," wrote Daughtrey.

At issue was the constitutionality of the so-called Michigan Marriage Amendment, passed by voters in 2004, which declares marriage is between "one man and one woman."

In March, after a nine-day trial in Detroit, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that Michigan's ban was unconstitutional because it denies same-sex couples equal protection under the law. A Cleveland Transgender Doctor is reviewing this case closely.

His ruling came after a lawsuit was brought by DeBoer and Rowse, two Hazel Park nurses raising, as a couple, children they had individually adopted. They sought to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage and the ban on joint adoption for gay couples.

Same-sex marriages are legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia. On Oct. 6 the U.S. Supreme Court issued orders that it would not review any of the seven marriage cases it had before it from five states that had appealed to the court for a review. That decision effectively made gay marriage legal in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In addition, the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, the 10th Circuit in Denver, the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, and the 7th Circuit in Chicago have all overturned statewide gay marriage bans in the South, the Midwest and the West since the summer.

Larry Dubin, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, said it seemed as though the appeals court wanted to allow the Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

"The court covers a lot of legal arguments, but in the end, gives deference to the voice of the voters of Michigan who passed the ban on same-sex marriage and the traditional definition of marriage being between a man and a woman," Dubin said. "This decision is a minority voice among all of the other courts that have reviewed this issue, and now this decision will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court."

With the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act last year, Frank Aiello, a professor at Cooley Law School, said the justices may have hinted at how they would rule on the issue.

Same-sex couples such as Amanda and Kay Shelton were hoping for a different outcome.

"It's incredibly disappointing for hundreds of families," said Amanda Shelton, a Royal Oak attorney who is hoping to legally marry Kay. "I'm disappointed but not disheartened. This is not the end. We're not done yet."

Shelton called the court's ruling "absolutely ridiculous" since the "tide is changing" in other parts of the country where gay marriage bans have been lifted.

"This is an anomaly," she added. "I think the 6th Circuit is going to get smacked down by the U.S. Supreme Court."

But Michigan pastor Stacy Swimp was encouraged by the ruling.

"I'm very happy that the courts decided to uphold the voting rights of 2.7 million voters who under the Michigan and the U.S. constitutions exercised their voting rights," said Swimp of the National Christian Leadership Council and a member of the National Coalition of Black Pastors and Christian Leaders, which filed amicus briefs in the case opposing gay marriage. "No court had the right to usurp their God-given rights."

In its 64-page opinion, the appellate court also said the traditional perception of marriage cannot simply be overruled.

"A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of states," the ruling states.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who brought the appeal on Friedman's ruling, said he welcomes a Supreme Court review.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has ruled, and Michigan's constitution remains in full effect," Schuette said. "As I have stated repeatedly, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word on this issue. The sooner they rule, the better, for Michigan and the country."


Original Story:

The students at Burton Elementary School in Huntington Woods were expected to have a new playground on which to romp in early November.

Instead, school principal Maribeth Krehbiel projects the $460,000 state-of-the-art playground will not open until closer to the end of the month. The reason? A shortage of cement, a key component of concrete, is squeezing construction projects in Michigan and across the Great Lakes region.

If a homeowner wanted to get a driveway poured in the coming weeks, he or she might be told to wait a month or longer, said Daniel DeGraaf, who heads the Michigan Concrete Association. A Construction Lawyer is experienced in representing clients in wide range of construction cases.

"There are projects that may not get built this year because of this," DeGraaf said.

The cement industry, which provides the binding material for concrete in roads, sidewalks, housing foundations and all kinds of building projects, is in the midst of a "perfect storm," blamed in part on the hangover from last winter, when the Great Lakes nearly froze over completely.

That delayed the start of shipping for the state's cement in the springtime even as the economy was heating up, and an oil boom in North Dakota has tied up freight trains, leading to a logistical nightmare for a slew of companies. A Boston Construction Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Lafarge North America, a major cement producer in Michigan with a plant in Alpena, issued a statement blaming the harsh winter weather in early 2014 that led to a "steep drop in construction activities and the demand for cement."

"As the polar vortex continued, cement storage facilities remained full. When the weather warmed, construction picked up as did the demand for cement. However, transportation bottlenecks resulted in cement sufficient to meet pent-up customer demand was not able to make it to the Great Lakes region in what was an usually heightened and compressed seasonal demand period," the company said.

Some concrete customers have been told their projects must wait because the Michigan Department of Transportation has first dibs for road construction.

But DeGraaf said that concrete companies have been trying to balance the importance of all kinds of projects. He pointed out that the massive I-96 reconstruction should not be blamed as contributing to the shortage because it had been planned for before this construction season began.

"There's a myriad of priorities and, of course, every customer's project is most important to every customer," said DeGraaf, whose Okemos-based organization claims 200 members, including ready-mix concrete and cement companies. "I believe the ready-mix companies, they're more than just listening to somebody screaming the loudest, they're mindful of the importance of the (projects), and they're trying to prioritize."

Jeff Cranson, an MDOT spokesman, said contractors have to plan for any material shortages and order accordingly. Cranson pointed out that the cement shortage was not having an effect on MDOT projects.

The cement shortage this year is like nothing Bunky Wheatley's family owned concrete company in southwest Detroit has experienced since its founding in 1991.

Wheatley, a co-owner of Detroit Ready Mix Concrete, said customers in need of concrete might wait up to one or two days in a normal year, but this year, the wait could be two weeks or longer.

"Unfortunately, if you're not a regular customer of mine, we're taking you and putting you on a waiting list," Wheatley said.

In addition to the effects of the cement shortage, other factors are having an impact on Wheatley's business. The burgeoning economic recovery has made it harder for Wheatley to find qualified employees, he said.

Cement production and consumption in Michigan, which is an exporter to other states, has been on the increase in recent years after substantial declines during the financial crisis.

In 2007, production was at 5.3 million metric tons and consumption was at 2.2 million metric tons. By 2010, production had dropped to 3.1 million metric tons and consumption was at 1.6 million metric tons, with production and consumption increasing steadily after that to 3.6 million and 1.6 million metric tons respectively in 2013, according to U.S. Geological Survey information supplied by the Portland Cement Association.

There are some mixed messages on the cement-supply outlook for the rest of the year. Wheatley and others describe a frantic push to complete projects before colder weather and snow arrive. However, officials note that the road construction season typically wraps up by about Nov. 15, which could free up equipment and materials for other projects.

And Lafarge said in its statement that "conditions are now returning to normal and the supply situation is stable."

The company said it is "identifying additional storage facilities and reviewing options to expand our transportation network to avoid future occurrences of this type."

DeGraaf said industry authorities are hopeful that the cement shortage is limited to this year, but he acknowledged that forecasting the future can be a challenge, saying "we really don't know exactly what's going to be going on this winter."

But DeGraaf noted that the situation has not been completely negative.

"The good part of it is you see houses going up in the Detroit area," DeGraaf said. "There are signs of life in Michigan now, so the demand's going up. That's the good part of the message, but it has created a difficulty for the producers. They cannot supply all of the requests for cement."

The shortage means delays for the Burton playground, which requires concrete for its walkways, the area under a gazebo and the perimeter of a sensory garden.

The delay is disappointing but not devastating, Krehbiel said. She said that delays on any type of construction project are not uncommon and the 520 students in kindergarten through fifth grade eventually will have a modern, showplace playground to replace a 20-year-old, wooden structure, thanks to assistance from the city and community groups.

"I would love to have had it (done earlier), but what are you going to do if you don't have the product available?" Krehbiel said.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Original Story:

Richard Bernstein will likely earn attention as the nation's first blind state Supreme Court justice. But in the raw, gray drizzle of his Election Day campaign, the 40-year-old Bernstein easily distinguished himself as the most huggable.

"You've already got my vote," said Brenda Mitchell, a Southfield voter and retired AT&T employee, flinging her arms around Bernstein and posing for a keepsake photo. It was a scene repeated again and again during his final day tour of polling places.

As dusk fell, and voters gradually recognized the candidate standing in the rain and his white cane, the exchange of warm greetings would become predictable.

"Give me a hug," he would eventually say, with a zest and warmth nobody seemed able to refuse. "You just made my day."

By virtue of his ebullient personality and television commercial-induced familiarity, the disability rights lawyer projects something quite different from the austere, black-robed image that justices — the campaigning or already elected — typically adopt. For Bernstein, the matter of human connection isn't just an idea: It's the essence of a life that might otherwise be led alone and in the dark.

In his campaign commercials, he allied himself with "the people," rather than with corporations, to the ire of political conservatives and legal traditionalists. Yet his message resonated. When voters describe his appeal, they tend to say things like, "He's for the middle-class person." Or, "He's done so much for people," or even, "his whole family cares about people."

Campaigning for a job whose requirements are intellectual and academic, he didn't hesitate to lead by force of personality — and more than $2 million in campaign funds to reinforce himself as a symbol of "blind justice," one of his campaign slogans.

Who dreamed up that bold catch-phrase? "That's all mine," says Bernstein. "Because you have to deal with it and it really expresses what justice is. I am blind, and justice — real justice — is blind. Programs and services are great, but people also have to understand on a personal level ... a blind person can't prejudge others. I want to confront who I am directly, because people want to understand how I do what I do. It's a way to have a discussion."

The slogan, he says, is a pun, meant to be "funny and serious."

He is blind, he is different, and he is irrepressible: A failed bid for a Democratic Party nomination for attorney general didn't slow him down ("That's politics," he shrugs). A shattering accident in New York's Central Park two years ago — he was mowed down by a bicyclist — crushed his hip and pelvis and left him with chronic pain and new physical challenges. But he has always known how to convert pain and hurt into other modes, from lawsuits on behalf of the disabled to marathon-running to inspirational speaking.

Overcoming hardship is a necessity for Bernstein, but it is also his thing, it's what he does. And he has no plans to check his life experience in the Supreme Court lobby once he dons official robes.

The state's highest court isn't typically thought of as a populist platform: High courts cultivate an aura of intellect and impartiality, not impassioned advocacy. But the Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University Law School has multiple gifts: Most lawyers use written notes. Bernstein memorizes.

Whether or not you buy the argument that a lawyer with no judicial experience should be elevated to the state's highest court (plenty of non-judges have served on the U.S. Supreme Court), Bernstein is insistent that lacking a few resume lines has little bearing on his fitness for the job — an opinion shared by the 1.3 million people who voted for him.

"You can't have all of the same people doing the same thing. You don't need seven people on the court, each amplifying the same message," he insists. "I really, truly believe I can make life better for people."

Late Tuesday night, he stayed calm as the results trickled in. All day, he seemed resigned to potentially fatal "ballot drop-off," as straight party ticket voters failed to darken the ovals for non-partisan races: He'd been warned he could lose 30 percent of his constituency that way.

He hadn't won yet, and as friends and family gathered in a 12th floor suite at the MGM Grand Hotel Tuesday night, he never assumed victory. Anything could happen, he knew. In the corner, Sam Bernstein, patriarch and 1-800-Call SAM founder, awaited results. His mother, Susan Bernstein, said she wouldn't presume victory until every vote was counted.

"It's remarkable," she said, as early results flashed on a TV screen, showing Bernstein among the top two finishers. "When Richard was born, I didn't know if he would ever write his own name. Everything he does is 10 times harder for him than it is for us."

He will tell you that standing in the rain isn't so bad and even helpful because he can hear voters approaching when their feet are wet. He will tell you that being Richard Bernstein — fighting for a place without being able to visually see it, pushing through every day — is quite difficult but absolutely worth the effort.

As he explained outside a Southfield recreation center in the last moments of his last 12-hour day at polling places, shaking hands, "I will stay out here until 8 o'clock, until the polls close. That's what I do. I keep going to the very end."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Original Story:

TULSA, Okla. (AP) The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says a driver was seriously injured when a piece of concrete crumbled off of a bridge, smashed through her windshield and struck her in the head.

Troopers say 37-year-old Shannon Durham of Collinsville was driving on U.S. Route 75 in Tulsa on Monday when the debris fell from the Archer Street bridge. They say she hit the guard rail multiple times and traveled about 100 yards after being hit. A Tulsa Construction Defect Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Durham was transported to an area hospital. Troopers describe her condition as stable.

An Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokeswoman says the concrete broke off in a chain reaction when a driver on the bridge hit a wall. She says the bridge is structurally sound and is scheduled for cosmetic repairs.


Original Story:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court eased the burden of a new law on Texas abortion clinics Tuesday over the objections of its three most conservative justices.

The court allowed most of the law to take effect, with two major exceptions. It blocked a provision that would have required clinics to meet the same construction and nursing-staff standards as ambulatory surgical centers. And it exempted abortion providers in McAllen and El Paso — remote corners of the sprawling state — from needing admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The compromise appeared to have been endorsed by six justices, because the other three — Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — said they would have let the entire law stand.

The Texas law had forced all but seven clinics in the nation's second-largest state to close. Abortion rights proponents argued that it was stopping women from getting abortions because of the cost and distance involved in reaching one of the few remaining licensed clinics.

A district judge had struck down the law, ruling that it imposed an undue burden on women seeking abortions. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit blocked that decision from going into effect earlier this month.

Even with the Supreme Court's partial reversal, the law is scheduled to be reviewed in full at the appeals court. The rapid flurry of court rulings affects only what the standard should be during the appeals process.

The law's opponents argued in their brief that "women's ability to exercise their constitutional right to obtain an abortion will be lost, and their lives will be permanently and profoundly altered." They said illegal abortions already are on the rise because 41 clinics had been reduced to seven — none south or west of San Antonio, "an area larger than most states."

The state argued that the restrictions were akin to others allowed by the Supreme Court in its 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision and since then. Moreover, it said, "abortion remains widely available in Texas," with 83% of residents living within 150 miles of a compliant clinic.

"Behind the plaintiffs' impassioned rhetoric, this case is more about who will be performing abortions in Texas than it is about whether they will be performed," the state's brief said.

The Texas law is one of many passed by Republican state legislatures in recent years that test the limits of abortion restrictions. While the 1973 Roe v. Wade case legalized abortions, Casey and other cases since have approved many restrictions, including a ban on late-term abortions.

The issue is likely to return to the Supreme Court, possibly as soon as next year. Although the Texas case was decided on an emergency appeal, it could return to the court for full briefing and oral argument, or the justices could agree to hear another — potentially an Arizona case concerning drug-induced abortions.


Original Story:

A little-noticed development is about to change the education landscape as we know it: Nearly a dozen charter school networks have grown to the size of midsized school districts. Now what? An Atlanta Charter School Lawyer has extensive experience in education law and charter school compliance matters.

This is a clear departure point. Political and philanthropic leaders who encouraged the growth of charters have to take a fresh look at their creations: Are these publicly funded, independently run schools what we had in mind?

Traditional school superintendents and teacher union leaders have to ask: Should they stop stonewalling charter school growth and collaborate instead?

Both answers should be yes.

Even the most high-performing charter networks are far from perfect. Charter schools still don't serve their fair share of special education students and there's no denying they pull money from districts, which struggle to downsize to meet diminished demand.

Even so, charters are more likely than traditional districts to succeed in educating low-income minority students, just what the politicians and philanthropic leaders who backed them had hoped.

Although most traditional school leaders continue to push back against charters, a few enterprising superintendents are pioneering a different approach: collaboration. A Cobb County Charter School Lawyer specializes in K-12 school finance and charter school law.

Green light

Last week, New York City-based Success Academy charter schools got green lighted to open 14 more schools over the next two years, bringing the network to 50 schools serving 16,300 students.

Success Academy is hardly the largest of the high-performing charter network operators. By 2020, KIPP plans to serve 120,000 students in multiple states. Texas-based IDEA charter schools are on track to serve 40,000 students by then. The same year, Houston-based YES Prep anticipates serving over 20,000 students in several states.

Collaborative models

As charters become an accepted and major force in education, farsighted politicians and school leaders see the potential in working with the charters. In Denver, for example, the school system invited several locally developed charters into their buildings, an innovation that led to academic gains for students.

In the Spring Branch district in Houston, a superintendent uses an infusion of KIPP and YES Prep schools as a lever to re-invent the entire way that district operates, benefiting kids in charter schools and in traditional public schools.

Tennessee created an "achievement school district" that welcomes the nation's best charter groups into that state to turn around troubled schools. In New Orleans, nearly all students now attend charter schools, a development that has been bumpy but produces clear academic gains for the students there and gets smoother every year.

Neerav Kingsland, who formerly ran New Schools for New Orleans, argues that the city's model requiring a common application process and common expulsion practices, while national charter groups keep their special classroom culture, should be copied nationally. "You keep the governance local, which is important, but the school operations go national," Kingsland says.

The moment when charter schools turn from isolated experiments to something resembling their own school districts doesn't have to be scary. Charter schools are doing what they were designed to do. And Denver-style collaboration should become the model for the future.

Answering yes-yes means a win-win for kids.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Original Story:

The victim of a brutal mauling in Detroit this month is seeking at least $25,000 in damages from the owners of the dogs, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Wayne County Circuit Court.

“The defendant in this case, acted in a way that terrorized this block … and put not just our client at great risk but to others — children, for example — who walked by this home almost everyday,” said attorney Mark Bernstein of the Farmington Hills-based Sam Bernstein Law Firm, which filed the suit. “That’s why this case in our opinion is enormously important.”

Steven Constantine, 50, of Detroit was walking in the 4500 block of Pennsylvania on Oct. 2 when about 12 dogs, pit bulls and mixes, attacked “and began eating him alive and only stopped when law enforcement utilized handguns,” according to the lawsuit. He was found nearly naked with severe wounds to his hands and feet. A Warren Dog Bite Lawyer represents victims of dog bites and animal attacks.

The owners of the dogs are listed as Derrick Felton and Elizabeth Collins Felton in the lawsuit.

The attack was so vicious, according to a Detroit police investigation, that arriving medics “were unable to exit their rig because the dogs were too aggressive” and police were forced to shoot at two of the dogs, killing one. The remaining dogs ran back to their home nearby and later euthanized, police said.

Derrick Felton was arrested the day of the attack on an unrelated warrant. No charges have been filed in the attack. A Warren Personal Injury Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The suit claims the Feltons were negligent and failed to take proper precautions with the dogs.

In statements to police, Felton and Constantine acknowledged the dogs barked and growled “a lot.” Constantine also said the dogs were known to “go after people.”

Constantine remains at Detroit Receiving Hospital. Since the attack, part of his left arm and left leg have been amputated, according to the suit. His right foot was reattached, and doctors said his right arm is unlikely to function, Bernstein said.

“Right now he’s in a circumstance where he can’t ring for the nurse,” he said.

Bernstein said his firm has handled other animal attack cases but the facts of this one were especially egregious.

“Enough is enough,” he said Monday night. “This is not about pit bulls, it’s about people … It’s about irresponsible, reckless people who need to be held accountable.”