Victim's rights major champion honored, exhibit dedicated

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

So often people who have made a major difference in the world are not honored until after they are gone, but the Father of Victim’s Rights is an exception to that rule.

West Michigan’s former Senator William Van Regenmorter not only broke ground in Michigan legislation on the rights of victims, but also led the way for many other states to follow.
Now, the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center at the Michigan Hall of Justice has created a kiosk display on victim rights to educate the elementary school children who visit the center.
In addition to very simple messages about such topics as victim’s rights to enter a Victim Impact Statement, the exhibit focuses on Michigan’s and Van Regenmorter’s role in the history of making sure victims are not left out of the legal process.

Every speaker at the April 13 ribbon cutting ceremony sang Van Regenmorter’s praises.

Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Robert P. Young, Jr., told the assembled crowd that legislation was needed because the U.S. Supreme Court’s focus on criminals’ rights in the 1960s and 1970s — for example, the Miranda decision that led to the mandate for police officers to read offenders their rights — had tended to imbalance the trial system. He quoted the proposers of a victim’s rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The victims of crime have been transformed into a group oppressively burdened by a system designed to protect them.”
Van Regenmorter’s Michigan constitutional amendment legislation was signed into law in 1988. Young thanked Van Regenmorter for his persistence in standing up for victims.

Young also thanked the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) for their assistance in bringing the Learning Center display to fruition.

PAAM was granted funding for the project by the Michigan Department of Community Health, Crime Victim Services Commission.

After Young left to rejoin the other Supreme Court justices, Attorney General Bill Schuette also spoke glowingly of the groundbreaking legislation. Schuette had served in the Senate with Van Regenmorter; he observed that, “You work with people and you see them on good days and bad days, and you take the measure of a person. Senator Van Regenmorter stood up to the scrutiny. Never once did he waver in his comment, passion and dedication to victims of crime.”

He pledged that as Attorney General he will always keep a victim’s rights at the forefront.

Senator Tonya Schuitmaker, also an attorney, is herself an author or cosponsor of several safety bills including those that prevent courts from dropping assault charges if the accused has a previous assault conviction, and that require State Police to have a computer database on methamphetamine manufacture and use.

Schuitmaker said that she had sought out Van Regenmorter as a mentor and had learned immeasurably from him.

PAAM, many of whose members were in attendance, was instrumental in creation of the display, developing a committee to determine what to include. That committee pulled together ideas, talked to Van Regenmorter, and developed a concept which was turned into a Request for Proposals to construct it.  Included were victim rights coordinators from PAAM itself as well as from Livingston, Eaton and Kent counties.

Anita Emrich Droog, Administrative Manager of the Kent County Victim/Witness Unit, commented, “It was a great team. [Learning Center Coordinator] Rachel Drenovsky gave us good direction. She’s such an excellent person to have in that position.”

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