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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MSC removes Inkster District Court judge from office

The Michigan Supreme Court has removed Inkster District Court Judge Sylvia James from office for judicial misconduct.

In the MSC’s opinion, authored by Justice Marilyn Kelly, the Court stated that the evidence established:

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.

The cumulative effect of respondent’s misconduct, coupled with its duration, nature, and pervasiveness, convinces this Court that she is unfit for judicial office. Although some of her misconduct, considered in isolation, does not justify such a severe sanction, taken as a whole her misconduct rises to a level that requires her removal from office.

Four of the Court’s justices, Chief Justice Robert Young, Stephen Markman, Mary Beth Kelly and Brian Zahra, signed Kelly’s lead opinion.

Justices Michael Cavanagh and Diane Hathaway concurred “in the majority’s result of removal from office and its decision to direct the Judicial Tenure Commission to submit an itemized bill of costs pursuant to MCR 9.205(B).”

In a separate opinion, Markman, joined by Young, concurred in removing James from office but said they would have gone even further.

Although the majority’s ordering removal from office addresses the immediate harm caused by Judge James, it is an inadequate response and fails to address the likelihood of continuing harm. As a result of the majority’s decision, Judge James will be removed from office from today’s date until the expiration of her present term at the end of 2012. She has her name on the August primary ballot, however. If she is successful in the primary, her name will be placed on the ballot for the general election in November. And should she prevail in those elections, she will be allowed to resume her judgeship on January 1, 2013. …

This Court has a duty to redress the harms done by Judge James’ harm, and that duty is not vitiated if Judge James is reelected. Nor is that duty limited to past harm; rather, it also extends to guarding against future harm. Imposing a six-year conditional suspension, which would be in effect throughout the next judicial term, is the only way this Court can adequately protect judicial integrity and redress the substantial harm caused by Judge James’s refusal to be bound by the same laws she is charged with applying.

District court judge asked about expenditures

From the Freep:

Inkster Chief Judge Sylvia James has until Monday to explain to the Michigan Supreme Court why the 22nd District Court has a community service fund, and must submit written justification of several expenditures from the account, including thousands of dollars spent on travel.

The inquiry comes after the state court’s administrative office completed an audit of the Inkster court’s finances, which uncovered sloppy bookkeeping and raised questions as to whether the district court is paying payroll taxes or withholding taxes for workers who are paid monthly stipends.

Among the charges James must justify are donations to the Inkster High School Class of 1969 and to Delta Sigma Theta for a 50th anniversary book.

There’s also the issue of the $12,000 in travelling expenses to send the judge and court employees to drug court conferences. Inkster doesn’t have a drug court.

Oh, and there’s this:

According to the audit, the Inkster court transferred its bank accounts from Chase Bank to Bank of America in September, and maintains three accounts with Bank of America, which include a depository account, a trust account and the community service account.

City officials said funds totaling about $250,000 were transferred by the court from Chase to Bank of America after the City Council voted in August to add the city manager and treasurer as signatories for the accounts. James and Anderson are the only signers on the new accounts at Bank of America.

Stay tuned. This could get interesting.