[Note: Those who steadfastly support the notion that the electorate are the best people to select judges and are sufficiently educated about those for whom they vote into these positions, you may be better off just going and playing today’s Google doodle. I offer no opinion on the issue.]
Somewhere among the avalanche of opinions released by the Michigan Supreme Court was the removal of Inkster district judge Sylvia James.
James, in case you weren’t aware, was removed for misappropriation of funds, then lying about it. More specifically:
The evidence establishes that respondent misappropriated public funds, some of which were intended for victims of crime in the city of Inkster. She inappropriately spent
much of this money on self-promoting advertisements and travel expenses for herself and various other court employees. She treated these funds, as the master phrased it, as her own “publicly funded private foundation.” In addition, she (1) denied people access to the court by instituting and enforcing an improper business-attire policy, (2) employed a family member in violation of court policy, and (3) made numerous misrepresentations of fact under oath during the investigation and hearing of this matter.
Two justices, Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. and Stephen Markman, concurred in the unanimous decision to remove her, but wanted her suspended for six years, equal to the amount of one term, as she was running for reelection.
In sum, following today’s decision: (1) Judge James will appear and be designated as a “judge” on the August 7 primary ballot, (2) if Judge James is among the top two
finishers in that primary, she will stand for reelection on November 6, although no longer designated as the incumbent “judge,” (3) Judge James will be allowed to campaigncontinuously for judicial office between the time of today’s decision and the November election, referring to herself if she chooses as a “past chief judge” or as “former judge,”and (4) if Judge James is reelected in November, she will be allowed to retake office and serve the next six-year term of the court beginning on January 1 of next year. And
whether by that time Judge James has or has not made full restitution to the city of Inkster or to individual victims of crime within Inkster, she may resume her “publicservice” after a “removal” from judicial office of less than five months. Such a sanctionis inadequate, in my judgment, and does not satisfy what I view as this Court’s obligationunder our superintending authority over the judiciary to preserve the integrity of Michigan’s courts.
Their stated concerns were prophetic. Yesterday’s election results for the 22nd District Court:
Total votes: 3,164
D. Eason 273
Jo Irby 386
Sylvia James 814
Sabrina Johnson 615
Robyn Liddell 248
Byron Nolen 531
Teresa Patton 182
Brandi Taylor 115
They say in boxing that you have to knockout the heavyweight champ to beat him. He’ll always win on the cards. And in politics, particularly judicial politics, the same seems to hold true. It wasn’t exactly a landslide certainly, but she was the top votegetter. Perhaps enough of the voters will band together to elect Sabrina Johnson, James’s opponent in the November election to render this moot. But history suggests otherwise.
Channeling the spirit of former Detroit Lions coach Darryl Rogers, what’s a judge gotta do to stay fired around here?