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Federal court comes to Wayne Law, and so does the media

March 8, 2013

Wayne State University law students got the flavor of federal courtroom proceedings, and the Law School got a taste of major media attention March 7, when U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman heard arguments on a case that will have an impact on whether Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Journalists and interested spectators joined students in Partrich Auditorium, where pre-trial motions in a case against the state of Michigan brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park, a lesbian couple involved in a child custody case, were heard by Friedman. 

The proceedings were part of the Law School’s annual “Motion Day” sponsored by the Legal Research and Writing faculty. Each year during the event, experienced counsel argues actual pretrial motions before Friedman, who rules or takes the matters under advisement. Students are able to observe a variety of oral argument styles, as well as the procedures of the federal district court, all without leaving campus, then converse with the judge afterward.

The plaintiffs in the most recent case are seeking joint custody of their children, which is prohibited now by Michigan law because the couple isn’t married. Rowse has custody of two adopted children, and DeBoer has custody of one adopted child.

The case was expanded last fall when the judge suggested they amend it to include the state’s voter-approved gay marriage ban. If Rowse and DeBoer were allowed to wed legally, they could, by law, have joint custody of their children.

Friedman, after hearing the arguments from both sides, postponed his ruling, which he said would be appealed no matter what he decides, until the U.S. Supreme Court decides two other pending same-sex marriage cases. He said he expects the Supreme Court to have decided both cases by the end of June, which will “give us some direction.” One of those cases is over the constitutionality of California’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage. The other is over the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“I think this (Michigan) case is a very important, and I should have the benefit of those cases,” Friedman said, promising a prompt decision as soon as the Supreme Court acts.

After the judge stayed the Michigan case, the lobby outside the Law School auditorium buzzed with national, state and local journalists, who — cameras clicking and whirring away — surrounded the litigants and their attorneys as they left the auditorium.

When the hubbub died away and Friedman had heard other motions on other cases, he joined faculty and students for lunch, and spoke about his appreciation of Wayne Law.

“We love coming here,” the judge said. “We love the students. Wayne Law does a fantastic job. Wayne is the gold standard as far as we’re concerned.”

Law students who attended the proceedings said they found it enlightening and instructive.

“It’s really nice to see oral arguments in context,” said Liz Andary, a third-year Wayne Law student.

She and third-year student Kate McCarthy are concentrating their studies now on family law, and they found the same-sex marriage case “spot on,” as McCarthy put it, to what they’re discussing in classes.

Photo caption: Plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (at right) are rushed by journalists as they leave Partrich Auditorium at Wayne State University Law School, where arguments on their case were heard by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman. Photo by Millard Berry.