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Saturday, August 30, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 8/4/2007

A decision to overturn

WHEN it comes to unfair and unjust court decisions, a recent one by the Michigan Supreme Court takes the prize.

It revolves around the case of Margarette Eby, the provost, or top academic officer, at the University of Michigan-Flint, who was raped and murdered in her own home in 1986. The murder wasn t solved till five years ago, when DNA evidence implicated a maintenance man who had been there to repair a sprinkler system. Jeffrey Gorton was then speedily convicted of murder.

Dayle Trentadue, the victim s daughter, then sued the killer s employer. Why? She argued that the employer knew that Gorton had sexually assaulted women in the past, that he had just gotten out of prison for assault, and should have known better than to send him unsupervised to a woman s home. She had reason to believe that they knew this because Gorton s employers were his parents. However, Michigan law holds that you can t file a wrongful death suit more than three years after a murder,

The trial court said that didn t apply here, since it took 16 years to fi nd out who the killer was. A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously agreed. The appeals judges noted there was ample precedent to support that finding.

For decades, Michigan judges have thrown out such time limits when the facts weren t available.

But the Michigan Supreme Court shockingly reversed that decision. In a ruling that is bound to please big insurance companies everywhere, the court voted 4-3 to overturn decades of precedent.

As usual, the four solidly partisan rightwing justices, led by Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, voted as a bloc. The two Democrats dissented, joined by Elizabeth Weaver, the court s lone independent Republican, who said the ruling would punish the innocent, who through no fault of their own, have been deprived of the information necessary to bring an otherwise valid claim.

This outrageous ruling obviously calls for immediate remedy by the Michigan Legislature. But something more is needed. Chief Justice Taylor is the only Supreme Court member running for re-election next year, and in the past, insurance companies have donated heavily to his campaigns.

Michigan voters need to scrutinize his re-election bid very carefully next year, and the Democrats need to seriously contest this race. Michigan has a right to know if, as many now fear, they have the best chief justice that money can buy.



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