Law school honors top scholarly briefs


Pictured at the 34th annual Distinguished Brief Award ceremony at the Country Club of Lansing are (left to right) Amia Banks, WMU-Cooley Law Review executive symposium editor; WMU-Cooley Law Review Distinguished Brief recipients, attorney Katherine L. Marcuz, State Appellate Defender Office; attorneys Joel T. Finnell and Stephen H. Sinas, Sinas Dramis Law Firm; and WMU-Cooley Professor and Law Review adviser Mark Cooney.

– Photo courtesy of WMU-Cooley

Attorneys Joel T. Finnell and Stephen H. Sinas of Sinas Dramis Law Firm, and Katherine L. Marcuz of the State Appellate Defender Office are recipients of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law Review’s Distinguished Brief Award.

The WMU-Cooley Law Review recognized attorneys who authored the most scholarly briefs filed with the Michigan Supreme Court in 2018.

The honors were presented during the Law Review’s 34th annual Distinguished Brief Award ceremony at the Country Club of Lansing on July 24.

During the ceremony, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanagh presented the keynote address.

During her remarks, Cavanagh spoke about how uncertainty can limit an attorney and the importance of pushing the boundaries while practicing law.

“In my opinion, embracing uncertainty doesn't mean leaving things to chance, embracing uncertainty means taking chances, with your writing and with your presentation at oral arguments,” said Cavanagh. “Don’t just play it safe, jump in and wade into an issue. Push on the boundaries. Be willing to admit limitations and weak points in your argument and then still be able to explain how you're going to win, or why your client should win nevertheless.”

Recognized for their brief filed in Home Owners Ins Co, et al v Richard Jankowski, et al, Sinas’ and Finnell’s supplemental brief was filed in connection with mini-oral argument proceedings ordered by the Supreme Court.

The ultimate issue in the case was whether defendants, Richard and Janet Jankowski, were ineligible to receive Michigan personal protection insurance benefits (PIP benefits) for an auto accident that occurred in the state of Florida while they were driving their Florida-owned vehicle — which was never driven in Michigan.

Following the accident, the Jankowskis submitted a claim for auto no-fault PIP benefits, which Michigan residents are entitled to for out-of-state accidents under MCL 500.3111 of the Auto No-Fault Act. 

Home-Owners Insurance denied their claim after taking the position that the Jankowskis were ineligible for PIP benefits because their Florida vehicle was not insured with Michigan auto no-fault insurance, but rather it was insured with Florida auto insurance.

The supplemental brief laid out the incorrectness of the insurance company’s conclusion and confirms, alternatively, that: (1) Michigan auto no-fault insurance is only required for vehicles that must be registered in the state of Michigan; and (2) the Jankowskis’ Florida vehicle was not required to be registered in Michigan because it was never driven in Michigan. Therefore, the Jankowskis were not ineligible for Michigan auto no-fault PIP benefits

Marcuz was honored for her brief presented to Michigan’s Supreme Court in People v. Thorpe.

In 2012, Joshua Thorpe was charged with three counts of criminal sexual conduct and was convicted by a jury.

During the trial, the prosecutor called an expert in the field of child sexual abuse and disclosure to opine about the broad range of behaviors exhibited by child abuse victims.

After admitting on cross examination that children can lie and manipulate, the expert testified on redirect examination (over defense counsel’s objections) that children only lie about sexual abuse 2-4 percent of the time. Later, the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished decision, and subsequently the Supreme Court directed supplemental briefing and oral argument on Mr. Thorpe’s application for leave to appeal.

The supplemental brief in support of the application argued that the prosecution’s expert testimony concerning the rate at which children falsely report sexual abuse was neither relevant nor reliable evidence as required by Michigan Rule of Evidence 702.