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John Bursch (’97) Argues Sixth Amendment Case Before Supreme Court

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John Bursch (’97)


About eight months into his new role as Michigan's Solicitor General, alumnus John J. Bursch (’97) was before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the state provided a fair trial and the petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief in the case of Lafler v. Cooper.

The case involves a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel by Anthony Cooper, who was convicted by trial of assault with intent to murder after shooting a woman in the legs. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned the conviction when Cooper claimed his lawyer, assuming there would be no intent-to-murder finding for gunshots below the waist, advised him to reject a plea offer.

In his arguments before the High Court on Oct. 31, 2011, Bursch held that to prove a Sixth Amendment violation, errors in the adjudicatory process must be demonstrated, that "mere outcome" of trial and sentencing is not enough. The mistaken assumption of Cooper's lawyer during plea bargaining did not compromise the fairness of the subsequent trial, Bursch maintained. "Granting Cooper's claim for relief would be a novel expansion of the Sixth Amendment, creating out of whole cloth a right that this Court has never recognized in the Amendment's 220-year history," the Bursch and Michigan co-attorneys wrote in their brief for the petitioner.

Bursch was named Solicitor General on Feb. 28, 2011, by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and supervises all state appellate litigation. In 2010, he was appointed to the ABA practitioner’s reading committee analyzing Elena Kagan’s writings prior to her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation. He is the only lawyer to receive consecutive (2008 and 2009) Distinguished Brief awards for his advocacy before the Michigan Supreme Court.

Previously, Bursch was with Warner Norcross & Judd in Grand Rapids, Mich., for 12 years, where founded and chaired the Appellate Practice and Public-Affairs Litigation groups. He clerked for Judge James B. Loken at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The Mounds View, Minn., native was executive note & comment editor for the Minnesota Law Review and received the Charles E. Nadler Award for Most Outstanding Staff Member for Volume 80.