PHIL IN THE BLANK: De mini-what?

“Substantial compliance with the law.”
This was one of a couple legal concepts/phrases brought up at the special meeting of the City Council last week.
City attorney Thomas Ryan mentioned it when discussing the shifting deadlines lately for candidates interested in running for City Council.
I might have scoffed to myself.
“Substantial compliance?” I’ll be sure to bring that up next time I’m stopped by an officer of the law on some road somewhere.
“Yes, officer, perhaps I was speeding a little, but you see, I wasn’t going that fast so clearly I was in substantial compliance with the law.”
But it turns out this odd phrase is a real thing. Merrian’s defines it as “compliance with the substantial or essential requirements of something (as a statute or contract) that satisfies its purpose or objective even though its formal requirements are not complied with.”
So Ryan is a lawyer and I’m not. That’s why he earns the big bucks as city attorney.
It’s still a weird concept.
Another was brought up by Bill Basinger – “de minimus.” Latin, this time. Great. I didn’t bother trying to write that one down.
Members of the City Council also didn’t recognize the phrase so I feel less bad. According to Wikipedia, “De minimis is a Latin expression meaning about minimal things, normally in the locutions de minimis non curat praetor (“The praetor does not concern himself with trifles”) or de minimis non curat lex (“The law does not concern itself with trifles”). Queen Christina of Sweden (r. 1633–1654) favoured the similar Latin adage, aquila non captat muscas (“the eagle does not catch flies”).”
How does anyone get anything done with these concepts out there? They literally mean “don’t worry about it because this thing you’re worried about is so minor it doesn’t even matter, and even if it does, it doesn’t matter all that much anyway. Or else it’s close enough.”
Maybe that’s why no one has seriously brought up replacing Mr. Ryan as city attorney. They all think like that.

— Phil Custodio

2 Responses to "PHIL IN THE BLANK: De mini-what?"

  1. Cory Johnston   August 16, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    It is interesting to know that many in our city, including those elected officials on the city council, think the election process can be called trivial.
    Mr. Basinger’s definition in the meeting, and remember we are talking about candidates filing to be on the ballot, was this was the “lessor of two evils.” I know many of us feel that way when it’s time to vote but it seems a bit odd to call any part of the candidate filing process the lessor of two evils.

  2. William Basinger   August 26, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    To The Editor:

    On 8/16/18, the Clarkston News ran an editor’s column, followed by the usual comment from Cory Johnston, both of which question my use of the phrases “de minimis” and the “lesser of two evils” at the August 8 special City Council meeting. However, the full context in which these comments were made was not presented and is important.

    My comments were not offered in an attempt to minimize or trivialize the problems caused by the change in the candidate filing deadline from July 24 to August 7. Rather, they were made in response to statements by the Mayor that the City should enforce the original July 24 filing deadline, set by resolution last April, despite having just been informed by the State Elections Division that, under the State law setting such dates, the City Charter provision requiring an August 7 date was indeed controlling, despite other State law date language.

    I invite your readers to watch the video of the whole meeting and especially the Mayor’s initial and very lengthy comments, upon opening the meeting. He clearly proposed that the best solution for last April’s unintended departure from the ultimately controlling Charter language was to ignore the recent extension of the filing date to August 7 and throw out all the candidate petitions filed after July 24, which would intentionally and knowingly violate that Charter provision.

    It was in this context that I noted that that the prior unintentional error, later corrected to the extent feasibly possible given the time allowed, was certainly “de minimis” when compared to an intentional and knowing disregard of the Charter established filing date recognized by the State. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that such a retroactive shortening of the filing date would also wholly defeat the attempt which had been made to mitigate the prior unintentional error.

    In fact, 6 days notice was given on the City’s website and all involved in city government urged to get the word out. Also, additional candidates did indeed file during the extended time frame. Further, it was noted that potential candidates who for some reason did not become aware of the extension nonetheless had until October to file as a write-in candidate. Finally, it was also noted that extending the deadline was obviously less harmful than shortening it to the original July 24 and excluding already filed candidates.

    Thus, when I stated it was the “lesser of two evils” to abide by the August 7 filing deadline, it was in reference to the prior discussion that since notice of the extension did not meet the 7 day publication deadline, possibly all candidates who filed during that extended time should be removed from the ballot. In that light, the harm caused by not absolutely complying with the Charter’s 7 days “published” notice requirement was clearly far “lesser” than that which would be caused by removing several candidates from the ballot who rightfully assumed they had complied with the corrected later filing deadline as specified by the Charter. That is why the courts have held that “substantial compliance” is sufficient if holding otherwise would be to unjustly penalize candidates and also thereby limit the voters’ choices.


    William Basinger
    8 E. Washington St.
    Clarkston, Michigan 48346


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