Notes for February 19th luncheon

President Elect Joanne Pierson rang the bell at 12:25 and led the members in singing our opening Patriotic Song.

Barbara Niess-May provided the Inspirational message in honor of Black History Month and our speaker for the day. She presented a quote from Claudette Colvin regarding “Justice.” Claudette Colvin is an activist who was a pioneer in the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama during the 1950s. She refused to give up her seat on a bus months before Rosa Parks’ more famous protest.

Steve Pierce led the members in singing “The Whiffenpoof Song” from the music book and then we turned the page to sing “You’re A Grand Ole Flag.”

President Elect Pierson welcomed the club’s reunion with black bean soup (which was on the lunch buffet) and thanked the lunch staff. She also thanked our volunteers for the day: Steve Pierce, singing and Joan Knoertzner on piano; Inspiration, Barbara Niess-May; Greeters, Kathy Waugh and Sarah Jasinski; Attendance, Larry Eiler; Reporter, Kathy Waugh; Photographer, Fred Beutler; Audio/Visual, Steve Kesler and Jim Egerdal; and mic runners Spaulding Clark, Burt Voss, Michael Cole.

We had many guests include one visiting Rotarian who brought his daughter, Rea Katial, who is a Pioneer Interactor. Additional guests included three Rotoractors and at least five guests of other Rotary members.

We heard from Helen Starman, Chief Development Officer Food Gatherers, who spoke about the Rotary Fights Hunger Food Drive that begins March 9th. Helen discussed the Food Bank program for Washtenaw County and we learned that 6.6 million pounds of food were distributed in 2019! It was also helpful to find out that “food insecurities” spike up during the summer months due to lack of school programs that help families feed their children. Our Food Drive will assist during this critical time. Food Gatherers also kindly puts together “weekend meal bags” for families to provide easy-to-fix meals for needy families.

Next we heard from the Peace Committee about the Lost Voices benefit concert taking place on Sunday, March 1st at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor. The concert will feature Josh White, Jr., Kitty Donohoe, Peter Madcat Ruth, Matt Watroba, and Mike Ball. Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for students, $40 for families and under 12 are free. Net proceeds will benefit Lost Voices and the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Peace Committee. For more information, go to www.lostvoices.org.  If you are interested in attending a Meet & Greet after the show, you can contact Marcia Lane at mlane0407@gmail.com.

A few club updates:

Girls on the Run: Volunteers are sought to assist in a coach summit that is taking place on February 29th to train coaches for an upcoming event. This summit takes place “inside while sitting in a chair.” No running involved. Contact Lauren Heinonen.

Board Meeting: The Rotary board met on Wednesday and it was announced that additional money will be allocated to the Community Allocations, International Projects, and Peace. President Elect Pierson received a round of applause for that announcement.

Libby Hines introduced our speaker for the day, Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack. Justice McCormack is the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, a position she has held since January 9, 2019. The Michigan Supreme Court is the highest court in Michigan and is the “court of last resort” and consists of seven justices. Prior to her election to the court as associate justice in 2012, she was a professor at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. She taught criminal law and legal ethics and oversaw the law school’s clinical programs as associate dean of clinical affairs. Her academic work focused on practical experience in legal education. Libby introduced her as someone with a very demanding schedule but with an “enthusiastic and can-do attitude.”

Justice McCormack has spoken to our Rotary Club in the past and it was obvious from the reception at this meeting that she needs to return. At this meeting, she spoke passionately about one of the administrative areas she’s been concentrating on – the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pre-trial Incarceration.

She described the Michigan court system by stating there are 242 trial courts in the state, but it is not a unified system. Each court operates very independently, while also hearing more than 3 million cases each year. In a relatively short period of time, county jail populations nearly tripled in Michigan. Approximately $478 million is spent on county jails each year. Half of the inmates have not been convicted and are simply waiting for their trial. Elevating jails as a shared bipartisan priority, state and local leaders created the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, directing the body to analyze jail populations across the state and develop legislative recommendations for consideration in 2020.

The leaders created this 21-member, bipartisan task force, which held an agreement with the Pew Charitable Trust to provide needed research assistance. They gathered data from a wide variety of sources, including actual stakeholder roundtable forums with the inmates themselves.

This led to many discoveries including the fact that Michigan’s jail growth was driven equally by pre-trial and already convicted inmates. Also, that traffic offenses accounted for half of all criminal court cases. For example, “driving without a valid driver’s license” was one of the top 10 reasons for jail time. As a result of this task force the following recommendations were made:

  • Traffic violations: Stop suspending and revoking licenses for actions unrelated to safe driving. Reclassify most traffic offenses and some other minor misdemeanors as civil rather than criminal infractions.
  • Arrest: Expand officer discretion to use appearance tickets as an alternative to arrest and jail. Reduce the use of arrest warrants to enforce court appearance and payments and establish a statewide initiative to resolve new warrants and recall very old ones.
  • Behavioral health diversion: Provide crisis response training for law enforcement and incentivize programs and partnerships between law enforcement and treatment providers to divert people with behavioral health needs from the justice system pre- and post-arrest.
  • The first 24 hours after arrest: Release people jailed on certain charges pre-arraignment and guarantee appearance before a judicial officer within 24-48 hours for anyone still detained.
  • Pretrial release and detention: Strengthen the presumption of release on personal recognizance and set higher thresholds for imposing non-financial and financial conditions. Provide a detention hearing for all defendants still detained 48 hours after arraignment.
  • Speedy trial: Require defendants to be tried within 18 months of arrest and preserve speedy trial rights unless waived by the defendant.
  • Alternatives to jail sentences: Presumptively impose sentences other than jail for non-serious misdemeanors and for felonies marked for “intermediate sanctions” under the sentencing guidelines.
  • Probation and parole: Shorten maximum probation terms for most felonies, establish new caps on jail time for technical violations, and streamline the process for those in compliance to earn early discharge.
  • Financial barriers to compliance: Reduce fine amounts for civil infractions. Require criminal courts to determine ability to pay fines and fees at sentencing and to modify unaffordable obligations. Repeal the law authorizing sheriffs to bill people for their own incarceration.
  • Victim services: Invest significant resources in victim services and strengthen protection order practices.
  • Data collection: Standardize criminal justice data collection and reporting across the state.

Justice McCormack proudly announced that bills are currently being drafted for all the above recommendations! For more information, you can visit the Task Force Website: www.courts.mi.gov/micjreform.

President Elect Pierson thanked Justice Bridget McCormack for her time and invited her back soon to answer questions only since the members had so many. The meeting adjourned at 1:30PM.

(Notes by Kathy Waugh; photos by Fred Beutler)