Brian Banks successfully campaigned on a catchy slogan this election: “You Can Bank On Banks!” That may be true unless you are an actual bank. Banks has been convicted eight times for felonies involving bad checks and credit card fraud. In some states, he would have faced a lengthy or even lifetime in prison as a habitual offender. However, in Detroit, Banks is the newest member of the state House of Representatives. What is interesting is that he was not the most unconventional candidate on the ballot in Michigan.
This week, Banks won a seat in Lansing as a state representative for the 1st District. The district covers the east side of Detroit and other areas. He won by a landside of 68 percent over Republican Dan Schulte.
Banks, 35, was last convicted of a felony in 2004 but his record goes as early as 1998. While people are banned in Michigan for 20 years from public office after a felony conviction, the law only covers certain felonies.
Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that bans “related to the person’s official capacity while holding any elective office.” That places all of the felonies outside the scope of the provision. Indeed, for those who believe lying is part of public office or that budgets are basically legislative forms of fraud, the felonies could be viewed as relevant experience.
Banks says that he is a lawyer and adjunct professor but there is no record of the bar membership or academic possession. Indeed, given his felony record starting in 1998, it is virtually impossible to become a bar member with such pending or recent felonies. That first conviction would have occurred 14 years ago when he was around 21. If he did not finish law school before that time (starting when he was 18), it is hard to imagine a law school admitting him during the period of his felonies and even more unlikely that he would have passed a fitness review with the bar.
He has said that he changed his life around eight years ago. It is possible that he could have gone to law school after his last conviction if a school accepted that he was reformed. The Michigan Bar would have likely required some additional showing in light of his record. Nevertheless, I have long argued that ex-felons should be allowed to become lawyers with proof of rehabilitation. Sometimes these lawyers come with the greatest sense of duty and commitment toward their clients and the law.
If he did indeed secure a law degree after such a record, it would be an impressive turn around.
Moreover, he appears positively conventional when compared to one of his opponents, Reindeer farmer Kerry Bentivolio. Bentivolio is a part-time Santa who is quoted as saying that he wasn’t always sure if he was himself or Santa Claus. His brother described him as “mentally unbalanced.” You guessed it . . . Bentiviolo won the House seat for Michigan’s 11th District. He will soon be joining the GOP in Congress.
Do you think that habitual offenders should be barred from the practice of law or public officer or both?