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Lawyer's actions land him in trouble

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2008/03/14 15:07

Some people say Detroit attorney Doyle O'Connor's refusal to approve the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative for the November 2006 election ballot was an act of courage.

Others call the decision by the former member of the Board of State Canvassers an act of defiance.

Either way, the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission has charged O'Connor with professional misconduct for failing to carry out his public duties -- the first time it has invoked the charge.

More than a dozen individuals and groups, including the Michigan Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters of Michigan, have urged the state Attorney Discipline Board to drop the charges. The board tries and disciplines lawyers for alleged misconduct.

"It's really an outrage," said state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer. "If lawyers are going to be subjected to this kind of second-guessing for acts as a public official, why would any lawyer want to serve in public office? This is a political vendetta."

But the woman who filed the misconduct complaint, Owosso novelist Diane Carey, who circulated petitions for the civil rights initiative, said O'Connor violated state law and should be disbarred.

"He violated his sworn oath to ratify a petition that was legally collected by the people and deserved to be on the ballot," Carey said.

Voters passed the initiative in 2006, 58% to 42%. It banned race and gender affirmative action in university admissions and government and public school hiring and contracting.

Proposal 2 got onto the ballot, despite complaints that sponsors duped voters, especially blacks, into believing it promoted affirmative action. Supporters denied that.

The grievance commission, which investigates and prosecutes lawyers for alleged misconduct, said O'Connor refused at a July 2005 meeting to approve putting the measure on the ballot despite a state attorney general opinion that canvassers had no legal authority to look into petition fraud.

And then, in December 2005, despite a Michigan Court of Appeals order to certify the proposal, he abstained.

O'Connor said he thought he was abstaining on a motion to close debate. The next month, he voted to put the measure on the ballot.

"If lawyers can defy a court order they disagree with, then they undermine the judicial system," said Deputy Grievance Administrator Robert Edick. O'Connor stepped down from the board in 2006 under the threat of contempt charges by the court of appeals.

O'Connor, then a labor lawyer, now works as a state administrative law judge. "Rather than being prosecuted for professional misconduct, Doyle should be given an award for trying to ensure the integrity of the electoral process," said his lawyer, Kenneth Mogill of Lake Orion, who wants the discipline board to toss the charge.


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