State Bar of Michigan Condemns Short Story, Withdraws Award, Ends Short Story Contest

8/19/15

The State Bar of Michigan issued an apology today and withdrew its honorable mention award for a story, Post-Conviction Relief, found to be embedded with racist cues and symbolism. At the same time, the State Bar announced the discontinuation of the contest that resulted in the award. State Bar officials were alerted to the issue by several members contacting the State Bar about the story’s racism.

“We cannot apologize enough,” said State Bar President Thomas C. Rombach. “The short story contest has been popular with many members. But if this result could occur even with the high caliber of the judges who conferred the award, the contest should be discontinued.”

State Bar President-Elect Lori Buiteweg noted the purpose of the contest was already subject to review in light of the State Bar of Michigan’s strategic plan and constitutional limitations on its ideological activities as a mandatory bar. She added that the State Bar increasingly is focusing its resources on activities directly related to advancing the professionalism and effectiveness of Michigan’s lawyers and protecting the public.

For eight years, the State Bar of Michigan has run the biennial short story contest, patterned after a State Bar of Texas contest. Entries written by members are judged by a panel of State Bar members chosen by the volunteers on the State Bar of Michigan Publications and Website Advisory Committee. As is typical of such contests, the judges’ decisions are independent of the organization’s governance structure.

When details about the story were brought to the attention of Francine Cullari, chair of the Publications and Website Advisory Committee, she asked, on behalf of the committee, that the State Bar withdraw the award. The executive committee of the State Bar voted unanimously to do so.

“We deeply regret our failure to recognize the underlying symbolism in this story,” Cullari said. “The panel of five judges approached each contest entry as an imaginative work of fiction, rather than a potential ideological manifesto.”

“As a mandatory bar, our membership holds a wide range of opinions about bias, discrimination, and remedies, and we respect those differences," Rombach said. "What we cannot and will not do is put the State Bar’s stamp of approval on hateful speech masquerading as an alleged work of art.”