Calvary Christian High School senior wins 2012 Law Day speech contest, scholarship

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Joelle Byers, Senior, Calvary Christian High School

by Diana L. Coleman, Legal News

Joelle Byers, a senior at Calvary Christian High School, was awarded the MCBA Law Day high school speech first place award. This winning speech contestant is awarded a $2000 scholarship that will be sent to her college of choice when she begins her college classes.

Joelle is an outstanding scholar and athlete at Calvary Christian and is involved in charitable and social projects in her church and community. She will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall, in the nursing program.

As is customary, the first place speech contestant presented the winning speech to the audience on Law Day. With Joelle’s permission we are printing her winning speech following the 2012 Law Day theme of “No Courts, No Freedon, No Justice.”

Imagine living in a place where you could be calmly canoeing down a river, only to find an angry man with a shot gun, ordering you off his property. Or, on the other hand, imagine walking out of your house one day and finding someone building a fence across your front yard. Fortunately, that’s not the case here in Michigan, or in the U.S.  We have a system in place that protects our individual rights. The courts help us make decisions, petition for changes, and give us a voice in the government. A court case called Collins vs. Gerhardt is an excellent example of how the courts give us both justice and freedom.

The ordeal started in 1925, when a man named Gideon Gerhardt waded into Michigan’s Pine River to catch some trout. Frank Collins, the man who owned the land around Gerhardt’s fishing spot, charged Gerhardt with trespassing, even though Gerhardt had never even set foot on Collin’s land. He’d merely stepped around a wire fence stretched across the stream. But let’s consider the case in more detail and look at both sides on the conflict.

On one hand, Frank Collins, the land owner, had property rights that he wanted to be protected. He felt that because he owned the land around the river, the river was also his. He had spent time and money caring for his land and only wanted his property rights protected. He believed that because the river flowed through his property, he owned the land under the river, making Mr. Gerhardt a trespasser.

On the other hand, Mr. Gerhardt only wanted to fish in a river that the state owned. The stated had stocked it with fish—wouldn’t that allow citizens to take advantage of it? He didn’t cross Collin’s land to get to the river, so he reasoned that he was not trespassing.

So now that we have our two conflicting viewpoints, we’ll consider how the conflict was settled. When this case, Collins vs. Gerhardt, was brought to the Michigan Circuit Court, the court ruled in favor of Collins based on two principles—One, that the river was not navigable and Second, that because the plaintiff owned the soil under the water, he had an exclusive right to fish in the river.

However, Gerhardt was not ready to give up. He appealed the court’s ruling and the case ended up in the Michigan Supreme Court. The judges now had much to consider. They examined previous court cases and English Common Law, and contemplated the fact that the state owns all navigable water ways. That brought up the question- was this river navigable? After much study, they found that it was. They also considered that the state of Michigan had paid to stock the river with fish. Since the state had paid to stock the river with fish, the fish should belong to the citizens of Michigan. After taking all of this into consideration, the court decided to rule in favor of Mr. Gerhardt. All citizens can freely use the lakes and streams of this great state for fishing, boating, or other recreational uses without being denied access to them by the people who own the land bordering them. In a broader sense, if we feel that our individual rights are being violated, we can have a voice through the judicial system.

I think the courts made the right decision based on the following two facts because the state does not have the authority to sell public water to a private individual. Even though the water may flow on an individual’s private property, the water doesn’t belong to them. According to Websters, navigable means, “Sufficiently deep or wide to provide passage for vessels.” This definition was something the courts kept going back to and was used in their verdict. The waters belong to all of us. And because the fish were purchased with tax dollars, the fish are a public resource that should be available to all Michigan citizens. Because of this crucial court ruling, we have the right to enjoy all of Michigan’s waters