The plot thickens: Johnson appointed to Inkster district court

Gov. Rick Snyder’s Sept. 5th appointment of Sabrina Johnson to the Inkster-based 22nd District Court could result in one of the shortest stays on the bench since Justice Alton Davis’s four-month stint on the Michigan Supreme Court in 2010.

Or it may be just the boost she needs to keep the job past the Jan. 1, 2013 expiration of her appointment.

Johnson, a long-time Wayne County assistant prosecutor with deep Inkster roots, was named to fill an opening created when the MSC removed Sylvia James from the bench on July 31 for misconduct. The Court found that James engaged in financial, administrative and employment improprieties, and then misrepresented the state of affairs to the Judicial Tenure Commission.

MSC Chief Justice Robert Young and Justice Stephen Markman voted with a unanimous Court to throw James off the bench. But they wanted even more. In a separate opinion, they argued in vain that James should be made to sit on the judicial election sidelines for six years. The two justices feared that James would simply run again and reclaim a seat on the very court she had just been booted from.

Seven days after being removed from the bench, James topped a field of eight contenders In the Aug. 7 primary for the 22nd District Court.

Here’s where the plot thickens. Johnson was also on the primary ballot. She finished second.

Johnson, now freshly appointed until the end of the year to fill the balance of James’ term, needs to win the November election or she’ll surrender the seat back to James.

A victory for James will give her the opportunity to thumb her nose at everyone who had anything to do with getting her kicked off the court. Young and Markman’s worst nightmares will come true.

Johnson will be listed on the ballot as an incumbent judge. James won’t. That usually does the trick in judicial elections and goes a long way in explaining Snyder’s appointment of Johnson.

But being forced from the bench for misusing public funds and telling whoppers to the authorities normally spells the end of a judicial career.

Except in Inkster, where some voters, caught up in a cult of personality, are apparently willing to reward James’ misconduct with another six-year term.

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JTC says James should go

Michigan Radio is reporting this afternoon that the Judicial Tenure Commission says District Court Judge Sylvia James should lose her job and pay back $81,000 in public money.

The commission has sent its recommendation to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Special master appointed in JTC complaint against Adams

The Michigan Supreme Court has named Donald Miller, a retired Macomb County circuit court judge, to hear evidence of misconduct charges filed by the Judicial Tenure Commission against Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Deborah Ross Adams.

The JTC, in Formal Complaint No. 89, charged Adams with lying under oath and forging documents in connection with her divorce.

The divorce complaint landed in Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan’s courtroom after the entire Wayne County circuit bench recused itself.

The JTC charges that Adams, while represented by counsel, frequently called Brennan’s office concerning her case, and persisted in doing so after being advised that such contact was inappropriate. The JTC’s complaint alleges Adams, while under oath, denied she had made the calls.

The JTC further alleges that Adams forged her former attorney’s name on a motion and brief to set aside or modify Brennan’s judgment of divorce.

Adams is also charged with making false statements to the JTC about the matter.

The complaint alleges that Adams violated the Judicial Code of Conduct, several court rules and Michigan’s perjury statute.

Miller will hear evidence and prepare a report for the JTC. The JTC, after a hearing, can then decide to dismiss the complaint or recommend that the Michigan Supreme Court impose one of several forms of discipline such as public censure, a suspension or removal from office.

MSC denies rehearing in Justin judicial discipline case

It’s the end of the line for former 12th District Court Judge James Justin.

The Michigan Supreme Court yesterday denied Justin’s petition to rehear the court’s January decision to remove him from office for judicial misconduct.

The former Jackson jurist was accused of fixing his own parking tickets, and speeding tickets of his wife and staff without a hearing. (There was a lot more; see MSC: Justin not credible, removed in our Feb. 3, 2012, issue.)

Along with yesterday’s rehearing denial, the MSC ordered Justin to pay $7,657.86 in costs to the Judicial Tenure Commission, which had recommended Justin’s removal from office last fall.

The MSC’s order clears the way for Gov. Rick Snyder to appoint Justin’s replacement.

MSC to Judge James: we won’t step down

All seven Michigan Supreme Court justices have denied a motion to disqualify them in a judicial disciplinary case.

Back in April, the Court exercised its powers of superintending control, and ordered 22nd District Court Judge Sylvia M. James to be placed on paid administrative leave after a State Court Administrative Office audit uncovered some irregularities in her court’s financial records.

James moved to disqualify the Supreme Court justices from participating in her Judicial Tenure Commission matter because she said the justices had suspended her, which could mean they’re biased against her.

Chief Justice Robert P. Young wrote in the Nov. 30 order denying James’ motion that there is a difference between suspension and being placed on paid administrative leave. And the Court had exercised its constitutional powers “to protect the public and the integrity of the district court until such time that an assessment of the implications of the audit can be determined. Administrative leave is not a disciplinary action, nor is the Court’s power to require a judge to take an administrative leave …”

Young’s colleagues also voted to deny James’ motion because they said that they are not personally biased against or for Judge James.

MSC appoints master in ticket-fixing charges against Jackson judge

The Michigan Supreme Court has appointed Judge Pamela J. McCabe as master to hear Judicial Tenure Commission charges against Jackson District Court Judge James M. Justin.

The JTC alleges that Justin fixed traffic citations for himself, his wife, his court reporter, his court officer and friends.

From the JTC’s Formal Complaint No. 87:

Respondent has engaged in a pattern of conduct in which he has dismissed cases, including misdemeanors and traffic citations, without hearings. Respondent has dismissed tickets cases that have been brought against his court reporter, his court officer, his wife, and even himself. Respondent has dismissed cases without authorization of the prosecuting authority. …

Respondent has engaged in a pattern of conduct in which he has entered beneficial judgments for certain defendants, often in multiple cases, by dismissing cases or by waiving or suspending fines and costs. Respondent stops Secretary of State (SOS) abstracts for defendants in violation of MCL 257.732, saving the defendants from paying driver responsibility fees under MCL 257.732a. …

Respondent has removed or set aside dispositions, including convictions by guilty plea and default judgments without the consent or authorization of the prosecutor. Respondent has dismissed and/or waived or suspended fines and costs on these cases without authority. Respondent has improperly removed or deleted Secretary of State (SOS) abstracts for many of these cases. …

Respondent has waived or suspended fines and costs, and improperly stopped, removed, or deleted Secretary of State abstracts for certain defendants, often for multiple cases for a defendant. …

Respondent has engaged in a pattern of dismissing traffic tickets and misdemeanor cases without following normal court procedures. Respondent has taken files, including files not assigned to him, and dismissed the cases without a hearing and without the authority of the prosecutor. …

Respondent has engaged in a pattern of conduct that allowed family, social, or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment, including dismissing tickets or waiving or suspending fines and costs for his friends, his court staff, his wife, and himself.

The above is a sampling of some of the JTC’s allegations.

All told, the JTC took 87 pages to detail the charges against Justin, and to explain how the charged conduct violates the Michigan Constitution, the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Michigan Court Rules.

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More light shed on the MSC justice grievance

The Grand Rapids Press reports on the story behind the story of the three Michigan Supreme Court justices who asked the Judicial Tenure Committee to investigate alleged ethical violations by Justice Elizabeth A. Weaver.

According to the story,Weaver spilled the beans about some behind-the-scenes discussions about a lawyer conduct case which had already concluded. The reports says she gave that information during a discussion with attorney John Muth, who had represented Weaver in another matter. However, Muth was involved in another similar case, which was at the time pending before the Attorney Grievance Commission. The case later came before the Michigan Supreme Court, and Weaver disqualified herself, which she said brought the alleged misconduct to the attention of her colleagues.