Neil S. Rockind
Please tell us about your background, where you practice, and how long you have been a criminal defense lawyer.
I started my career as an assistant prosecu-tor in the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. (As Gerry Spence says, “everyone has sinned at least once in his life”). Even while I was a prosecutor, I admired the criminal defense lawyers that I went up against in court. So in 1997, I left the prosecutors office, began my career as a criminal defense lawyer and have never looked back. My practice takes me to different parts of the state and routinely, into federal court. I have been recognized as a Top Lawyer (DBusiness Magazine), have been named a Super Lawyer and have even been recommended by the Marijuana Policy Project for marijuana and medical marijuana cases.
You have recently had some significant successes in the area of Medical Marijuana defense, including a successful motion to have a judge disqualified, and a dismissal in Oakland County. Please tell us something about the key issues, and how the cases were resolved.
Thank you. We’ve worked hard in defending medical marijuana cases and the successes reflect that effort. The Clinical Relief Case, i.e., the Fern-dale Dispensary Case, was one in which the police forged patient cards in order to pass themselves off as legitimate medical marijuana patients and gain entrance into our client’s clinic. Our clients lacked criminal intent. In fact, they were operating with the consent of the City of Ferndale and had even been given a Certificate of Occupancy by Ferndale to operate as a Medical Marijuana business. We argued that our clients interpretation of the MMMA was reasonable (at least one Circuit Court judge in another county agreed with it) and because of that, we believed that they should not be prosecuted for simply interpreting a “yet to be defined” law.
We have prevailed in several other medical marijuana cases as well. We managed to convince a Judge in Troy that, due to the Medical Marijuana Act, marijuana can no longer be classified as a Schedule 1 substance. That was a great ruling. However, I take particular pleasure in having obtained the disqualification of Judge Marc Somers (in Dearborn’s 19th District Court) in a medical marijuana case. Previously he had ruled that the MMMA was unconstitutional. Coupled with his reference to marijuana as “Satan’s Weed”, and his belief that marijuana users have “blood on their hands”, i.e., are responsible for cartel murders in Mexico, I believed that he was unfit to preside over my client’s medical marijuana case. The Chief Judge in Dearborn agreed. I must say that victory was particularly satisfying.
What trends do you see in the criminal law in Michigan? What issues are developing?
I cannot speak to trends in the “criminal law.” That topic is simply too broad. The criminal law is much more diverse and complicated than say, 20 years ago. The most disturbing “trend,” if you will, that I see is the frequency with which some judges and administrators view criminal cases as matters to be “moved quickly” and “completed by a certain time period,” rather than treating the cases as matters that can destroy someone’s life. For example, these judges refuse to grant 14 day waivers of preliminary examinations or they set “concrete” jury trial dates without regard to whether the lawyers are adequately prepared. More lawyers need to stick up to these practices, in my opinion.
What advice do you have for other criminal defense lawyers?
I box at 6:00 a.m. at a boxing gym. One of the lessons I’ve learned in boxing is to keep your guard up and never quit. The fighter with the most energy, stamina and determination can win any fight. As criminal defense lawyers, we fight a giant (the government). But we can win … you’ve just got to keep fighting and working.
Do you have any special advice for new lawyers?
The best advice I ever received … in your spare time, go to court, find a trial to observe and watch the lawyers. Law school doesn’t train us to do much in a courtroom. Go to court and watch some skilled lawyers fight for their clients. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it may help accelerate your learning curve.
Mr. Rockind’s website: http://www.rockindlaw.com/.
by Neil Leithauser