Questions and Answers about the
Michigan Municipal League Legal Defense Fund
The Defense Fund is an advocacy program for Michigan’s local governments in the courtrooms. It provides support and assistance to municipalities, and their attorneys, in court cases where the issues have a broad impact on both the municipality involved in the case and on other municipalities in the State.
The Michigan Municipal League Legal Defense Fund was formed in 1983 through the efforts of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys, working with the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees.
The Fund has experienced a steady growth in membership, from 88 in the first year to 521 in 2010-2011, its 28th year. Thus, 84% of MML member cities and villages are members of the Defense Fund.
How does the Defense Fund work?
The Fund is governed by a 13-member Board of Directors, consisting of the president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer and directors of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys, and the president and executive director of the Michigan Municipal League. The Board meets regularly to review applications for assistance from cities and villages which are members of the Fund. It can and does convene by telephone conference call when necessary to make decisions when urgency dictates.
The Fund is administered by a Fund Administrator, who is the League’s General Counsel.
How does my municipality join the Michigan Municipal League Defense Fund?
Any member city, village or township of the Michigan Municipal League may participate by sending a modest annual fee payment. The fees are based on League dues. This method was chosen to reflect ability to pay. The fee structure adopted by the League Board of Trustees is that the fee for LDF membership will be set at 10 percent of annual League dues with a minimum amount of $50.
How do I get Defense Fund assistance?
Any member of the Fund may request Fund assistance by (A) the adoption of a resolution requesting assistance by the municipal governing body; or (B) a letter from the municipality’s chief executive officer (or his/her designee) to the Legal Defense Fund Board, requesting assistance.
A sample resolution is set forth below:
Whereas, the City/Village/Township of is currently involved in the following described litigation or controversy: and Whereas, the City/Village/Township believes the issues involved in such litigation or controversy are such that the Michigan Municipal League Legal Defense Fund may wish to provide supportive aid to such litigation or controversy; and,
Whereas, the City/Village/Township desires to receive the assistance of the Michigan Municipal League Legal Defense Fund;
Now, Therefore, be it resolved, that the City/Village/Township of hereby authorizes the appropriate municipal officials to request aid from the Michigan Municipal League Legal Defense Fund in the litigation or controversy described above. It is understood that there may be conditions placed upon the aid offered by the Fund.
What kind of help does the fund provide?
Designed to assist and not replace the municipal attorney, the Fund offers various types of aid. Assistance will be given at the discretion of the Board and can consist of:
- Amicus curiae briefs financed in whole or in part by the Fund;
- The provision of legal counsel designated by the Board; and
- Such other assistance as the Board may deem reasonable and proper.
The typical form of assistance is a brief amicus curiae filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals or Michigan Supreme Court by an attorney retained by the League and financed by the Fund. An amicus curiae brief, literally “friend of the court” is a way of presenting the court with arguments, information and authority and to assist the court with the broad perspective of the case in terms of the impact on municipalities generally, as well as the litigant municipality. There is no automatic right to file an amicus brief, but the court’s permission must be sought by filing a motion for leave to file a brief amicus curiae.
How does the fund board decide whether to provide assistance?
The League Board of Trustees established operating rules and procedures which are aimed at identifying those cases which could affect the organization, operation, powers, duties or financing of Michigan’s local governments with regard to:
- Whether the particular litigation or controversy involves important questions of law, the favorable decision of which could provide substantial benefit for a significant number of Michigan local governments.
- The extent to which the disposition of the litigation or controversy at its current level would serve as a persuasive precedent in similar future litigation or controversy before the courts or other adjudicative bodies having jurisdiction in the State of Michigan.
- Whether aid is currently being provided in other litigation or controversies involving substantially similar issues or questions of law.
The Fund Board of Directors developed criteria as directed by the League Board of Trustees which include:
- The soundness of the legal position being asserted by the applicant.
- The lack of any alternative remedies available to the municipality.
- The ability of the municipality to provide adequate defense for itself either financially or otherwise, including the extent to which the matter may be covered by an insurance policy.
For additional information, please contact the League’s General Counsel, Christopher Johnson, at 734.662.3246.
For further information about the Legal Defense Fund, contact:
Christopher Johnson, General Counsel