‘The show is just beginning’: JTC case against Hudsonville judge moves forward

A special master has been appointed in the Judicial Tenure Commission’s case against 58th District Court Judge Kenneth Post in Hudsonville, who jailed an attorney for contempt after he repeatedly invoked his client’s Fifth Amendment privilege.

According to the JTC’s formal complaint against Post, attorney Scott Millard was representing Ethan Whale at an arraignment before Post. During the arraignment, Post asked Whale whether he would be “clean or dirty” if given a drug test. Millard told Post that Whale would stand mute to Post’s question.

Post insisted that Whale answer the question. After a recess, Post asked Whale directly if it was true that he didn’t want to reveal the last time he had used drugs. Millard interjected and said that was so.

Post told Millard that he was talking to Whale, not Millard. After another recess, during which Whale was tested and came up positive, Post continued to question Whale directly about the last time he used drugs. Millard twice attempted to assert Whale’s Fifth Amendment privilege on behalf of Whale. Post cut him off each time and warned him that a contempt citation was on the way.

Post told Millard that he needed Whale’s answer to determine “what the bond level is going to be.”

Post persisted in his questioning of Whale. Millard persisted in attempting to assert Whale’s rights.

Post fined Millard $100 for contempt of court. Millard again asserted Whale’s Fifth Amendment privilege. Post ordered Millard jailed for contempt.

While Millard was in custody and on his way to the county jail, according to the JTC’s complaint, Post summoned him back to court.

Just before Millard appeared in court, the court’s recording system captured these remarks between Post, who was laughing, and an unidentified speaker:

THE COURT: Good thinking. The show is just beginning. You won’t get better tickets anyplace. I’d sit up close if I were you.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Okay.

THE COURT: The front row is good.

Post told Millard, who appeared before him in handcuffs, that he would be released if he agreed to return to court with Whale and allow Whale to answer Post’s question. After some discussion Post again remanded Millard to jail.

After an hour in jail, Millard was transported to the Ottawa County Circuit Court, in handcuffs and leg shackles, both attached to a belly chain. Circuit Judge Leo Post (no relation to Kenneth Post) ordered Millard released.

The JTC’s complaint charged that Judge Kenneth Post failed to follow the law, displayed an improper demeanor toward counsel and trivialized a court proceeding.

Post responded to the complaint with a 30-page answer. In the “Conclusion” section of the answer, Post wrote:

Judge Post admits that he made a mistake of law in not realizing that Attorney Millard’s instruction to his client not to respond in light of his client’s 5th Amendment rights was colorable and therefore that the holding of Attorney Millard in contempt was an abuse of his discretion. However, an error of law does not subject a judge to a violation of the Judicial Canons or to a violation anticipated by MCR 9.104(1) 9.205 (sic) or the Michigan Constitution or (sic) 1963 as amended in Article 6 Section 30.

Judge Post admits that his remarks, as directed to Attorney Millard were sarcastic and possibly demeaning, and therefore constituted a “failure to be patient, dignified, and courteous to lawyers with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” contrary to the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3A (3), and that his conduct may have “eroded public confidence in the judiciary and that he failed to avoid all impropriety,” contrary to the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 2A.

No word yet on a hearing date. Stay tuned.

Advertisements

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.

Judge James found guilty

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that 22nd District Court Chief Judge Sylvia James has been found guilty of misusing public funds.

Retired Washtenaw County Judge Ann Mattson was appointed special master over the case. She ruled that James had “demonstrated ‘a lack of respect for the law’ by lying to the commission and misappropriating funds,” according to the Freep.

High court reappoints two Oakland judges

Two Oakland County judges were recently reappointed to two-year terms for their benches by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Hon. Nanci J. Grant was reappointed chief judge of the circuit court in for a two-year term effective Jan. 1, 2012, as her first term as chief judge nears an end. She was the youngest woman ever elected to a Michigan circuit court when she won the circuit bench in 1996.

Grant was president of the Michigan Judges Association in 2006, and is vice chair of the Judicial Tenure Commission.

Also, Hon. Linda Hallmark was given another term as chief judge for the Oakland Probate Court, effective Jan. 1, 2012.

First appointed to the probate bench in December 1997, she was named chief judge of the probate court in 2000 and served two consecutive two-year terms. She also was presiding judge of the circuit court’s family division from 2000-04.

Hallmark serves on the executive committee of the Governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, in addition to the executive board of Michigan Inter-Professional Association and the Michigan Family Court Forum.

JTC recommends suspension without pay for 36th District judge

The Judicial Tenure Commission has recommended a 21-day suspension without pay for 36th District Court Judge Brenda Sanders.

The JTC determined that Sanders violated the state constitution when, shortly after being elected judge on Nov. 4, 2008, she filed to run in the special Feb. 24, 2009 Detroit mayoral primary.

Article 6, section 21 of the Michigan Constitution provides that a judge is ineligible for elected office, other than another judicial office, while a judge and for one year after leaving office.

The JTC also found that Sanders violated the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct by acting as her own campaign treasurer during her mayoral candidacy.

The JTC’s “Decision And Recommendation” is available here.

The Michigan Supreme Court will have the final say on the matter.

Roseville judge suspended without pay, censured by MSC for drunken driving

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a 90-day suspension without pay and has publicly censured Roseville District Court Judge Catherine Bove Steenland.

Steenland was arrested last spring in Ogemaw County for driving after drinking way too many beers.

According to a report in the Bay City Times, Steenland was on a trail that winds around a lake when she backed into a ditch. Her efforts to get the car out prompted witnesses to call 911.

Steenland had a blood alcohol level of .23 after her arrest. She pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while visibly impaired.

The Judicial Tenure Commission conducted discipline proceedings and recommended a 90-day suspension without pay, and public censure. The Michigan Supreme Court accepted the JTC’s recommendation in an order released yesterday afternoon.

The suspension is effective Dec.18.

In announcing its discipline of Steenland, the MSC observed:

The respondent has pled guilty to the commission of a misdemeanor designed to promote public safety. The commission of a crime by a judge erodes public confidence in the judiciary, which is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Upper Peninsula judge suspended for docket delay

The Michigan Supreme Court has suspended 41st Circuit Court Judge Mary B. Barglind for 30 days without pay for her self-admitted delays in deciding cases and failure to report the delayed cases to the State Court Administrative Office.

From the MSC’s order:

With no justifiable reason, respondent engaged in a pattern of delay in rendering decisions in matters submitted to her for review. In some instances, the delays exceeded two years. Respondent failed to respond over a several month period to numerous inquiries made by the State Court Administrative Office Regional Director regarding the status of various matters. On several occasions, respondent failed to report, as required by MCR 8.107, all matters which remained undecided for more than four months from the date submitted to respondent. After a January 2007 implementation plan was put in place, respondent failed to report all undecided matters to the State Court Administrative Office. Respondent’s failure to promptly dispatch her judicial duties constituted misconduct on the bench that was prejudicial to the administration of justice.

In ordering the suspension, the court referenced the Judicial Tenure Commission’s decision and recommendation of discipline, noting that Barglind consented to both the JTC’s fact-finding and recommended 30-day suspension without pay.

The JTC examined a dozen of Barglind’s cases and declared:

The standards of judicial conduct make clear that an important component of justice is the prompt dispatch of judicial duties. Through her unjustified delay and failure to cooperate with the SCAO, Respondent has failed in these responsibilities.

The commission concluded that Barglind committed judicial misconduct but the delays were not “premeditated or deliberate.” Barglind’s conduct was “more in the nature of neglect,” the JTC said.

The 41st Circuit includes Dickinson, Iron and Menominee counties in the Upper Peninsula.