Weaver, Corrigan, Young and Markman: Supreme Court potboiler

The sniping between Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth A. Weaver and Justices Maura D. Corrigan, Robert P. Young Jr. and Stephen J. Markman has escalated to all-out war.

The topic: Weaver’s referral to the Judicial Tenure Commission and the Attorney Grievance Commission by the other three justices, who claim she improperly shared inside Court information about a case with Grand Rapids attorney and former State Bar of Michigan president Jon Muth.

There’s a lot of moving parts to this one, so let’s dig in.

A while back, you’ll recall, the Judicial Tenure Commission was busy raking Rockford District Court Judge Steven Servaas over the coals, claiming that he had vacated his office by moving from his judicial district, and that he seriously breached judicial decorum with sexually related doodling and an untoward comment about a court worker’s anatomy.

In a split decision that produced multiple opinions, In re Honorable Steven R. Servaas, Judge, 63rd District Court, the MSC rejected the JTC’s recommendation to remove Servaas from the bench and instead censured him for his doodling and comment. The MSC ruled that the election-law charge wasn’t brought in the proper forum.

The Court released its opinion on July 31, 2009, and closed the file on Sept. 11, after dealing with the JTC’s motions for rehearing or clarification.

Grand Rapids attorney Jon Muth, who represented Servaas in the discipline matter, and other high-power attorneys, in a grievance filed July 2, 2008, asked the Attorney Grievance Commission to take a hard look at JTC Director Paul Fischer. They claimed he tried to extort Servaas’ resignation before filing formal charges against him.

In In re Servaas, two justices, Weaver and Diane M. Hathaway, called for an AGC investigation of the JTC. Corrigan opined that she had “serious concerns” about Fischer’s behavior when confronting Servaas. Fischer himself noted during the March 4, 2009 oral arguments of Servaas that Muth and other attorneys had already filed a grievance against him.

The AGC dismissed the grievance against Fischer on Nov. 17, 2009. The attorneys, in Jan. 2010, filed a complaint for superintending control in the MSC, styled Brady, et al. v. Attorney Grievance Commission.

Yesterday, the MSC, in a single sentence, tossed the complaint.

Justice Diane M. Hathaway, in a single paragraph, dissented and repeated her call for the AGC to investigate Fischer.

Corrigan, Young and Markman used a little more than three pages to explain why they sicced the JTC and AGC on Weaver.

Weaver provided a nine-page explanation (accompanied by 27 pages of attachments) concerning her non-participation in Brady, her claims that the referral to the discipline authorities was election-year “political maneuvering” and that the sun needs to shine brighter on the Court’s deliberative processes.

All of this stems from what happened between Sept. 11, 2009, when the Servaas case was closed out, and the AGC’s Nov. 17 dismissal of the grievance against Fischer.

In a nutshell, Muth and Weaver had lunch together on October 1. Muth and Weaver are friends, and Muth, at one time (though not when the Servaas case was pending), provided Weaver with legal representation.

In Weaver’s attachments, there’s a letter from Muth explaining that they talked about basketball, politics and the closed Servaas case.

Here’s Weaver’s account of the Servaas discussion:

[Muth] and I did meet on October 1, 2009 for lunch in Traverse City. He indicated that he found this Court’s result in In re Servaas strange, convoluted, and surprisingly close after what he witnessed at oral argument. I responded that his observation was correct and that the vote was originally 6-1 in Judge Servaas’s favor. I told him my speculation was that the emphasis and the direction of some justices’ positions shifted with recognition that the State Court Administrator and his office may have had more involvement in the Servaas matter than merely referring such allegations to the JTC for investigation and process according to JTC rules.

Muth said the Fischer grievance wasn’t discussed. Weaver says when she met Muth for lunch, she didn’t recall Fischer’s statement at oral argument about the grievance filed against him. Weaver says that had she recalled Fischer’s statement, she never would have met with Muth.

Weaver says that in March, when the Court’s commissioners’ office issued a report on Brady v. AGC (the complaint for superintending control) she realized she could not participate in the matter.

In yesterday’s order, Corrigan, Young and Markman said they brought the matter to the discipline authorities’ attention, and the authorities would decide if misconduct had occurred. But they also claimed that Weaver appeared to have “secretly help[ed] one side in a lawsuit[,]” providing “valuable insider Court information to one party, information that the party could use to strategic advantage in a related case.”

Weaver said the three did more than bring the matter to the attention of the JTC and AGC. She said the three “not only publicly accused me, but judged me guilty as well.” She also accused them of playing politics with a Supreme Court election just around the corner.

The whole affair raises a very interesting question: If either the JTC or the AGC or both initiate proceedings against Weaver and issue an adjudication, who will conduct the judicial review?

Michigan Lawyers Weekly staff writer Carol Lundberg has a full treatment of the question, which subscribers can access here or read in the June 28 issue.

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