Joan Lowenstein

Joan Lowenstein
attorney; Ann Arbor City Council Member, 2nd Ward

Tottered on: 13 February 2006
Temperature: 25 F
Ceiling: Mostly Cloudy
Ground: snowy
Wind: SW at 20 mph


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TT with HD: Joan Lowenstein


JL: I haven't been on a teeter totter in a very long time.

HD: Maybe that's a good way to start. Do you remember the last time that you actually were on a teeter totter?

JL: Not the exact last time. But it was probably when my kids were little. My older son is 17 and my younger one's 14, so probably at least twelve years ago.

HD: Do you remember where?

JL: Probably Eberwhite. Does Eberwhite have them? I know we always used to go over to Eberwhite School a lot.

HD: They may have at that time. My best information at this point is that the public schools have removed all their teeter totters as a safety hazard.

JL: They've pretty much removed everything as a safety hazard ...

HD: Speaking of safety hazards, breast-feeding beside a pool ...

JL: That's one of those segues!

HD: Right, a Marlin Perkins Mutual of Omaha segue like you mentioned just before we got on the teeter totter. You know, I just assumed that that issue was something that you've been spending a lot of time working on recently and that you're sort of proud of having accomplished ...

JL: I may now be the world's expert, having done a huge amount of research on all of this. Just to figure out what kind of ordinance would be best for us to have. Actually, I'm amazed that we've never had one. Thirty-eight states have some kind of breast-feeding protection statute.

HD: Michigan doesn't?

JL: Michigan doesn't. But places like Florida do. In fact, Florida, which we consider to be a very backwards state, has a state law that says breast-feeding is protected in all public and private places. Our ordinance that we're going to pass just says 'in places of public accommodation', meaning places where the public goes.

HD: I wanted to ask you about that phrase, because that's not the way ordinary people talk. They don't talk about 'places of public accommodation', they just talk about public and private places. Does that phrase have particular legal implications?

JL: It does. In civil rights law. It means places that are open to the public, available to the public. All kinds of non-discrimination laws, from the Civil Rights Act to state non-discrimination laws like the Elliott-Larsen Act in Michigan talk about 'public accommodation' as a place that is open to the public. That can include private clubs that have memberships, because ... people from the public can come get a membership.

HD: So in particular, it would apply to the YMCA?

JL: It would.

HD: So people who have said here locally that it wouldn't apply to the YMCA because it's private, you have to be a member and pay dues, they're wrong? The YMCA would not be able to hide behind that status?

JL: That's right.

HD: So ... would that extend even to my teeter totter?

JL: It wouldn't ... not unless, ... well, I see you have a gate over there. Not unless you opened that gate and had a sign out front that said, Come one, Come all! Then it would be a place of public accommodation.

HD: Well, I guess in a sense, though, I am saying, Come one, Come all! Because you can volunteer to come ride the teeter totter via the website. It made me think anyway, Do I want to develop a policy? I don't think it's going to come up, quite frankly, ...

JL: Well, I don't know if you have policies about any other kind of behavior, but you probably wouldn't need one about that, if you don't have policies about anything else ...

HD: The one thing I think I would discourage people from doing is ... and this is based on the teeter tottering session I had with Steve Glauberman, where we tried to teeter totter standing up ... and that is: standing up is to be frowned upon. So anything you want to add to the whole breast-feeding ordinance issue? You said you're going to pass it, but you've already had one vote ...

JL: Right. Ordinances have to have two readings. So we'll have the second reading on March 6th.

HD: That's just a part of the normal process?

JL: Right, anytime there's an ordinance, or a new ordinance, we have to have two readings.

HD: What's the thought behind that? That people might change their minds between readings or that new information might come to light?

JL: There's a public hearing when you have the second reading. So you might hear something at the public hearing that might make you think, Okay, I should change this word, or something like that.

HD: Part of the background research that I tried to do on this issue had to do with, I guess it's the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that has recommended best practices for ... there's gross incidents and local [limited] incidents. A gross incident would be a sewage spill into a pool and then a local [limited] incident would be when somebody vomits or, what's the language, I think it's 'well-formed stool' and then a separate procedure for 'liquid stool'. I guess if I were a judge hearing a case on this, it would seem to me that an outfit like the YMCA would have a compelling interest in disallowing behaviors that make puking in the pool more probable, given the complex procedures required. It'd be interesting for me to hear your thoughts on that angle.

JL: They don't ask every kid who comes out of the locker room, What'd you have for lunch today, or Do you feel a little bit sick? They don't test people to see if they're feeling bad or if they have a cold, ... they may have signs up that say, 'If you have a really bad cold, don't go in the pool.' But if they were concerned that breast-feeding babies might spit up into the pool, that would be singling out something that they don't otherwise check on with all the other people who use the pool.

HD: Well, the rule against food and drink, though, ... if they said, Look the behavior for anyone that we are trying to govern is one that would increase the probability of somebody puking in the pool.

JL: But I don't think that's why they have No Food and Drink. I think they have No Food and Drink, because they don't want things spilled where people can slip on it ... crackers falling in the pool and that kind of stuff. Of all the things I've been able to see that's been the case. Florida's law which, as I said is very very broad, was originally inspired by someone who was at a pool, who was asked to stop breastfeeding.

HD: Oh, really. Okay.

JL: So it's not like other places haven't considered it. They have. There's a really broad law in Edmonton, Ontario. In Canada, ..., when a woman was asked to stop breast feeding at a pool in Edmonton, it turned out, for instance, at the YMCA in Montreal they they said, No problem sitting on the deck breast-feeding. It's just never come up anyplace else, that this is any kind of health hazard whatsoever. And none of these other states have any exceptions.

HD: What was just the nuts and bolts process like for you, as far as crafting this ordinance? Did you have discussions with the YMCA? Cathi Duchon, who's head of the YMCA, did you have conversations with her?

JL: I didn't, because even though that incident stimulated it, it's not about the YMCA. The nuts and bolts of it was ... Jean King, who's a women's rights pioneer, she's on the Scio Township Board of Trustees now, she called Jean Carlberg and me on Council. And asked if we would do something about amending our non-discrimination ordinance. I got some information from a group called WPA, Women Progressive Activists. They also sent me some information. And I basically just copied a law that is in Philadelphia. And that was really before I'd done all the other research on all the other states. But they all say pretty much the same thing.

HD: Before, I said something like, If I were the judge ... which is never going to happen, but for you, that's somewhat of a real possibility at this point.

JL: Well, I'm a candidate for this Probate Judge position. Judge Kirkendall resigned, so there's a position open. Governor Granholm will appoint it ... according to state law, if there's a vacancy, then the Governor makes an appointment.

HD: So you've officially thrown your hat in the ring? I know you publicly expressed an interest, but there's sort of a formal procedure?

JL: There is a very formal procedure. You write in to the Governor and you fill out an incredibly long questionnaire that takes hours to fill out.

HD: Essay questions?

JL: Essay questions, yes!

HD: Like what?

JL: It asks you something about the five last cases that you did, and who were the lawyers on the other side. You have to also attach a brief. You have to put all kinds of stuff from your resume, where you've worked, list people who are your references ... It's long.

HD: So your last five cases ... that assumes that you're already a judge or an attorney?

JL: An attorney, yes.

HD: So that's a minimum qualification?

JL: Yes, you must be an attorney. I believe that it used to be that non-lawyers could be judges, but most states don't have that any more.

HD: So that means you've got to have a JD or you also need to be a member of the Michigan Bar?

JL: You have to be a member of the Bar.

HD: You've finished this application and sent that off?

JL: Yes, I sent it off.

HD: Is there an application fee involved with that?

JL: No. No, you send it off and the Governor has an appointments person. Her name is Susan Corbin, and then she has an assistant named Erik Wilford. He sort of handles everything. So you send everything off to them, and then people can also write-in letters. There's an interview with the state Bar, that gives a qualified or not-qualified ranking. They don't make any recommendation other than giving that ranking.

HD: That's an actual face-to-face interview with somebody?

JL: Yes, I'll have that tomorrow. A panel.

HD: Oh really! So do you want to practice!? What kind of questions do you anticipate them asking?

JL: What they said is, they have contacted all the lawyers who've been on other sides, they'll contact the references ... They said, Don't be affronted by something we might ask, we have to ask things. I mean, I can't think of anything bad ... I don't think I have any skeletons in my closet.

HD: You don't think you have any secret enemies, who are going to surface only at this hearing?

JL: I don't think so. And if there are, I'll never know. Everything's very confidential. They don't even tell you what your ranking is, ... whether they find you qualified or unqualified. It all goes to the Governor confidentially.

HD: So that never comes out at all? That can't be FOIA-ed or anything like that?

JL: I don't think so.

HD: Hmm, interesting. So how many people are going to be on this panel?

JL: There's a judicial qualifications committee. And they listed all the people on the committee, there's something like nine people on the committee. But only actually four or five that you interview with.

HD: Governor Granholm, she's not going to have a sit-down face-to-face talk with you?

JL: Not that I know of. I also had an interview with the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association. They made some sort of recommendation. Then there's a group called the Justice Caucus, ... these are all voluntary things that you can submit yourself to: their incredibly long questionnaires and their interview process. So Michigan Trail Lawyers Association, which is kind of a very liberal group as you might imagine, had actually no say in anybody John Engler appointed. But they evidently have a lot of say with Granholm. Then there's Justice Caucus, which is kind of a progressive, activist lawyers group from the Democratic Party. I got an endorsement by the Teamster's Union. I met with the Teamster's Union, I talked to them.

HD: What does a Probate Judge actually do? This is marriages and births and custody stuff or ... ?

JL: Well, it's a division of the Circuit Court. It's actually the Family Division of the Circuit court. And in the Family Division, there's Juvenile Court and Probate. And those judges will hear family law cases, which are divorces and custody and stuff like that. And then the Probate will hear things involving conservatorships ... if somebody is incompetent and somebody has to be appointed to take care ...

HD: ... does this have anything to do with same-sex marriage issues?

JL: Well, if there was a same-sex marriage issue, it might come into the Family Division. Someone might sue saying, We should have the right to have a same-sex marriage. But I think it wouldn't necessarily have to be in that Division. Because it would be basically a constitutional case, so it wouldn't be Family Division.

HD: Seems to me a couple of years ago, it was in the news here locally, that there was a judge who was assigning those cases to himself, because he wanted ... do you remember what that was?

JL: That was not same-sex marriage. That was same-sex second parent adoption.

HD: Ah! Okay.

JL: And that was Archie Brown, who is now the Chief Judge, I can't remember who was the Chief Judge then.

HD: So that [adoption] would be totally within the domain of the Probate Judge?

JL: It should be, but not necessarily. Because all of these things are in the Circuit Court. So there's not necessarily a real strict division of cases.

HD: So do you mind if I ask you what your take is on same-sex second parent adoption?

JL: I think there should be [same sex second parent adoption]. In child custody and adoption cases, there's always a whole checklist according to what are the best interests of the child. And the statute says you have to look at X number of factors to determine the best interests of the child. And so if we're looking at the best interest of the child, it would seem to me to be in the best interest that that child be allowed to be adopted by the other parent who lives with them. So that if something happened to the other parent, if they died, for instance, that the child would have somebody to take care of them.

HD: You mentioned you have two children. At least one of them is still very much school age.

JL: Right. One's a senior and one's in eighth grade.

HD: So is your eighth-grader going to be affected at all by the new redistricting of the high schools?

JL: No. He's going to go to Huron next year. So even if he were going to be in the new high school district, he wouldn't be affected, because I think they're going to start out with only ninth graders, and then add the rest. Where we live, our district won't change.

HD: Do you have any thoughts about the new high school?

JL: It's really very worrisome that here people voted on a milleage, people were given information ... I went to a couple of meetings, but I didn't go to a lot of meeting about the new high school ... I did go as a City Council Member to a meeting with the School Board, telling what the school was going to look like, and how much it was going to cost, ... to think that much of this information was just completely incorrect is very distressing.

HD: You say you attended some of these meetings as a City Council Member. When you have like a parent-teacher conference, you're showing up there as a parent, not as a City Council Member, but people know that you are on the City Council. Do you find that makes people, like the teacher ... is it something that you think about consciously, where you try to put them at ease, so they don't freak out?

JL: Well, no, I don't. I think, Boy, it's a good thing that they have some additional respect for me!

HD: Above and beyond just being the parent of the child.

JL: Yes.

HD: One might conclude from that comment that maybe you think ordinary parents don't get quite enough respect from teachers in general?

JL: I think that teachers are really overworked. And I think that they all have a lot of kids to pay attention to. And it's very hard to distinguish among the kids. So I think that if my kid can get a little more attention, at least in this parent-teacher conference, where the teacher's going to really be very straightforward with me, knowing who I am ... I think that's good.

HD: So you have one kid who's a senior ... heading off to college?

JL: Heading off to college next year.

HD: Before we got on the teeter totter you mentioned that your undergraduate degree was in journalism?

JL: Right.

HD: I found that surprising, I'm not sure why ... maybe just because I didn't know it. Is that something you would necessarily steer your own kid towards pursuing ... or?

JL: Yeah, definitely. I'm not sure with my older son. He doesn't seem all that interested in journalism, in writing. Although he's a pretty good writer. My younger son, I would definitely steer in that direction. Because he's interested, because he's a sports nut. He's a very fluid writer and he loves sports. And he loves watching sports, He has written sports kinds of things even in his middle school. He always loves reporting back what happened. Which is why I think I got into journalism: because I always loved to be the first person to tell somebody some kind of new story. And he's like that. So I think that he would like it, and I would steer him in that direction. If it turns out that's what he wants to do.

HD: So are he and you watching the Winter Olympics together at all?

JL: Yes! Yeah, definitely. I've been watching it more. He's more of an American sports nut, ... he's mostly interested in football, basketball, hockey ... so he'll be very very interested in watching the Olympic hockey. Because it'll be all the hockey players that he knows from the NHL. But I'm just interested in everything in the Olympics. I like watching curling. I like watching snow boarding. I like watching downhill skiing. I'm really fascinated by it.

HD: Are you old enough to remember the actual live broadcast of the miracle-on-ice, do-you-believe-in-miracles?

JL: Yes, I remember watching that.

HD: I don't think there's ever going to be an equivalent moment.

JL: No. Actually, my son knows about it, even though he wasn't even born yet, I don't think. What year was that?

HD: I think it was ... 1980, I want to say?

JL: He definitely wasn't born yet.

HD: I'll look it up and fill it the correct date ...

JL: I should know it because I saw a little paper he wrote ... anytime in school he has to write some kind of paper, no matter what the subject, it's about sports. I think last year he had to write something about some historical moments for history. And he chose that for his history paper. He definitely knows about it.

HD: Okay, anything else on your mind?

JL: Let's see, we have working session tonight on Council where we're going to learn about the master plan for our water plant. That's very important.

HD: Some guy from Seattle, used to live here, who emailed in his Teeter Talk responses, and he said one of the most overrated things about Ann Arbor was the quality of the water. And I didn't know what the context was. Does Ann Arbor have a reputation for having good water?

JL: We do. We get a water award every year for good-tasting water. And I think our water has measured up against some of the best waters across the country.

HD: ... ... So that will be the topic for tonight, then?

JL: I think it's about how we need to shore up the infrastructure for our water plant and water management and make sure it stays good. ... We're also going to hear an update on the Pall (Gelman) ...

HD: Yes! We've got our very own well, scheduled to be drilled at the end of our street!

JL: That's why I know the name of your street, I think.

HD: Yeah, it's demarcated down there. They may have actually drilled it by now. It's funny how you just sort of think, Yeah, over there, in that neighborhood, thank God, I don't have to deal with that! And then your own street name comes up and you think, Wait just a minute!

JL: Yeah, you're on the edge of a plume!

HD: So that's the working session tonight. It'll be on CTN as usual?

JL: I think so. Not all our working sessions are on CTN. This one may be.

HD: Well, it'll be competing with the Olympics, I guess. And let's see, what else is on Mondays ...?

JL: 24. Which is my favorite show.

HD: You watch 24?! Yeah, I have to say, that's some pretty good TV, right there.

JL: It is. I'm going to have to TiVo it.

HD: What I like about it is, you know that it's real time, and have you noticed that they make sure they give the viewer these time references? So somebody will say, When is this going to happen? and somebody else will say, Oh, in the next twenty minutes! and you look at your watch and you say, Great, this episode this issue will be resolved!

JL: Exactly.

HD: I'm sure it's conscious, and I really appreciate it as a viewer because in a typical show they just mess with you. On 24 they just tell you straight up that you'll find out whether the bomb explodes this episode.

JL: They had that last year, when they had the nuclear thing. They said, It'll be in New Jersey in 30 minutes! or wherever it was, and you always have that deadline. Last week there was something where Jack Bauer said, I'll be there in a few minutes! And, in fact, he was!

HD: Yeah, so what do you think of Chloe's character?

JL: I love Chloe. Chloe is just great. She's really blossomed since the earlier shows where she was just sort of the annoying geek. But now, you can't wait for her geeky kind of activities and remarks.

HD: Last season, I think the very best line of the whole season, ... I forget who said it to her, ... but it was something like, Chloe, I'm sick of you and your personality! Do you remember that line?

JL: Yeah, maybe Buchanan, the head of the whole place, said that.

HD: I don't know, I can't remember many of their names except Jack Bauer and Chloe. And Edgar. Edgar is kind of an enigma. I think they should write a more interesting story line for him.

JL: Well, his mother died last year.

HD: But this season he hasn't been in the thick of things.

JL: No, not yet. I don't know if he has any family members left, who can be killed by terrorists.

HD: You watch anything else on a religious basis like 24?

JL: I also like CSI.

HD: Which version?

JL: The standard version, the original version. Like original recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken.

HD: What time did you say you have to pick up your kid?

JL: I have to pick him up at four.

HD: Okay, well, I want to make sure I get you on your way well before ...