A judge was admonished for their high rate of absenteeism and tardiness.
The judge had a pattern of tardiness that began well before it was publicized in a media report. That tardiness had been a long-standing issue relating to their service on the bench The Commission acknowledged that the judge had health problems, and their representation that those issues caused their high rate of absenteeism. However, by the judge’s own admission, the health issues did not cause their repeated tardiness. The Commission found inexcusable the judge’s frequent late arrival to court and failure to take the bench anywhere near the time their docket was scheduled to begin.
The Commission found that the judge violated
- Canon 1, which requires a judge to participate in establishing, maintaining, enforcing, and personally observing, high standards of conduct so that the integrity of the judiciary may be preserved, and which requires a judge to be aware that the judicial system is for the benefit of the litigant and the public, and not the judiciary;
- Canon 2A, which provides that public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges; and
- Canon 3, which provides that the judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all other activities.
The Commission acknowledged the judge’s representation that publicity about their absences and tardiness caused them to become aware of their responsibility to litigants and attorneys to appear on the bench in a timely manner, and considered that in deciding to admonish. The Commission expected that the judge will continue to take the bench at a time when any extended waits are eliminated, and litigants and counsel can resolve court business in a prompt manner.
A judge was cautioned for their handling of defense counsel’s scheduling requests and motions in a criminal case.
Defense counsel had filed a motion requesting that the arraignment and all future court dates be held after a certain date, because he was unavailable as a result of moving across the country for new employment. Despite several requests, the judge scheduled the pretrial for a date prior to defense counsel’s availability. Defense counsel was advised by a court clerk that he could participate in the pretrial telephonically. However, when he faxed written requests for a conference call on the morning of the pretrial, he did not receive any response and the pretrial was conducted in his absence.
At the pretrial conference, the judge scheduled the trial, and again did so for a date prior to defense counsel’s availability. Defense counsel again made numerous requests to have that date adjourned, and also filed a formal motion to adjourn and two motions to suppress evidence. When he was advised that his motions would not be addressed by the judge until the morning of trial, he made an emergency time-off request from his new employment and purchased a last-minute plane ticket to Michigan.
After defense counsel finalized his travel plans he was contacted by the assistant prosecutor, who stated that due to evidentiary problems with the case, she was going to contact the court to request a dismissal without prejudice. Shortly thereafter, defense counsel received a second call from the prosecutor, informing him that the judge had agreed to grant her motion for nolle prosequi.
The Commission found that the judge’s scheduling of defense counsel’s pretrial matters, as well as the trial itself, was improper. In addition, the judge’s policy of scheduling pretrial and trial dates without input from attorneys, and at times in their absence, was improper and in violation of MCR 2.401(B)(2)(d), which provides that whenever reasonably practicable, the scheduling of events shall be made after meaningful consultation with all counsel of record. Subsection (i) of the same court rule also states that when such consultation does not occur, a party may file and serve a written request for amendment of the order detailing the reasons why the order should be amended, and subsection (ii) mandates the court to reconsider the order.
In the present case, not only was defense counsel not consulted as to the pretrial or trial dates, both proceedings were scheduled for dates on which he specifically advised the court he would not be available. The Commission noted that defense counsel’s motions to adjourn made the judge aware of counsel’s inability to appear before a specific date, yet the judge continued to schedule hearings, including the trial itself, prior to that date. The Commission also noted that the judge’s failure to follow the law resulted in counsel making last-minute travel arrangements, only to then find out that the judge had granted the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the case.
The judge acknowledged their disregard of MCR 2.401(B)(2)(d)(ii). The judge blamed the problem, in part, on failures by the judge’s staff. The judge acknowledged that had they followed that court rule, counsel would have had less cause to be concerned about the impending jury trial date. The judge assured the Commission that they would comply with the rule in the future.
The Commission concluded that the judge’s disregard of the court rule was a failure to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in it, in violation of Canon 3(A)(1). The Commission dismissed the matter with a caution to the judge that they, and not their staff, are responsible for what happens in their court, whether on the bench or in chambers, and they have a duty to manage their staff.
A judge executed a document indicating that their rental property was their principal residence, thereby obtaining the homestead tax exemption on the rental property. The judge claimed they made the error due to ignorance of real estate procedure and law.
The Commission found the judge’s explanation untenable. It noted that the judge was an attorney who should know to review legal documents with knowledgeable counsel to obtain an understanding of what they are signing. The Commission further noted that the exemption affidavit has simple phrases and inquiries, which should cause even a layperson to question the propriety of executing the document when it claimed that a second home was the judge’s “principal” residence. The Commission stated that if the judge had used minimal care when preparing and signing the form, they would have been on notice to rescind the exemption when they determined that they were not going to move into the rental property.
The Commission emphasized that under Canon 2(A) a judge has a higher obligation than the general public to conform to the law, and that public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct by judges.
The Commission was further troubled by the judge’s failure to obtain a landlord’s license, as required by the municipality in which the rental property was located. The Commission stated that this was a failure to follow local ordinances, and a failure to respect and observe the law as required by Canon 2(B).
Finally, the Commission reminded the judge that they had an obligation to promptly update their address as to their driver’s license and voter’s registration when they moved. The Commission determined that state records revealed that the judge had not done this promptly.
The Commission appreciated that the judge took action to remedy their improper actions immediately after they learned that they were not entitled to claim the homestead exemption on the rental property. For that reason, the Commission dismissed with an admonition rather than seek a public sanction.
A judge publicly referred to their fellow judge in an extremely derogatory manner. The Commission acknowledged that the other judge had provoked the judge, by walking through their courtroom on two occasions and disrupting the proceedings. In addition, the other judge had made comments in the office area of their courtroom that hurt, embarrassed, and upset the judge.
The Commission disagreed with the judge’s claim that their insult did not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct. It found that the judge’s insult was demeaning, undignified, and discourteous in violation of Canon 3(A)(3). The Commission also stated that as a judicial officer, the judge was required by Canon 2(A) to hold them self to a higher standard than the public, and freely and willingly accept restrictions on conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen. That includes incidents in which the judge may justifiably feel provoked by another.
The judge acknowledged that their comment was inappropriate, that they regretted making it, and that they apologized to their fellow judge for the statement. The Commission dismissed with a caution.
A judicial official told another judicial official of the same court that a person appearing before the second official was “like family” and “like [the first official’s] godson.” The first judicial official asked the second to “take it easy” on the defendant.
Despite the judicial official’s denial of improper intentions, the Commission found it clear that they intended to use their judicial office to benefit the friend.
The Commission stated that the judicial official’s effort was a prohibited ex parte contact with the second official, in violation of Canon 3(A)(4). The Commission also found that the first judicial official violated Canon 1, requiring a judge personally to observe high standards of conduct so the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved; Canon 2(A), requiring a judge to avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety; and Canon 2(C), prohibiting a judge from allowing family, social, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment, and prohibiting use of the prestige of office to advance another’s personal interests. In addition, the Commission found that the judicial official violated MCR 9.205(B)(1)(e), by misusing their judicial office for the advantage or gain of another. Finally, it found that the judicial official’s attempt to influence the other judicial official was prejudicial to the administration of justice, and erodes confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
The Commission also expressed its concern that the judicial official falsely denied having tried to influence the second judicial official, and denied committing any misconduct.
The Commission dismissed with an admonition.
A judge was grieved for imposing an eight-month parenting time prohibition as a sanction against a party for failure to appear at a hearing in a divorce case.
The Commission found that the judge reached several conclusions without first holding a hearing or making findings of fact. Rather, the judge merely accepted as true the opposing party’s assertions that grievant had not provided notice of hearings. The Commission noted that the Register of Actions contradicted this, and indicated that a proof of service for a notice of hearing had been filed.
The judge sought to minimize the import of the sanction by claiming that it only applied to the motion to implement parenting time for which the grievant had failed to appear on two separate occasions. The Commission determined that contrary to the judge’s claim, the grievant had properly adjourned the first hearing, as allowed under the local court rules, because the grievant believed that the opposing party was going to sign an agreement that would eliminate the need for the hearing. When the written agreement was not signed, respondent should have conducted a hearing so each party would have an opportunity to present evidence, but did not do so.
With respect to the second hearing, respondent did not give grievant an opportunity to explain that inclement weather where they lived made it prohibitive to make the three-hour trip to court. The Commission said that although a failure to attend a hearing for that reason may technically violate the local court rule, inclement weather would certainly be a valid reason to reduce or eliminate sanctions.
The Commission noted that the judge failed to provide any explanation or justification for the harsh sanction. The judge appears to have imposed it only because the judge was offended by grievant’s failure to appear at a hearing.
The Commission acknowledged the judge’s assertion that a court speaks through its written orders, but stressed that the judge’s remarks on the record as to the imposition of a harsh sanction nonetheless spoke volumes about the judge’s improper motivation for the sanction. The Commission noted that it appeared that the judge’s later “clarification” of the sanction was based on a realization that it was improper.
In defending the sanction to the Commission, the judge referred to the grievant’s professional disciplinary history. The Commission stated that this reference was unwarranted and that the grievant’s history in other matters did not justify the sanction the judge imposed in this matter.
The judge also defended the sanction by referring to the grievant’s past allegedly improper actions in this proceeding. The Commission stated that the judge’s description was one-sided. It noted that the divorce was extremely contentious, and that the opposing party had also engaged in conduct that was “less than exemplary.” The Commission found that the past alleged improprieties should have caused the judge to conduct a hearing to learn the facts before imposing any sanction.
Further, the judge defended the sanction on the basis that the grievant did not challenge it. The Commission disagreed, noting that grievant’s inaction did not legitimize the judge’s wrongful conduct.
The Commission noted that the judge had been previously admonished for taking matters into their own hands and failing to follow the law. The Commission expressed concern that once again, the judge had ignored the law and imposed a sanction without following proper procedure, which violated the grievant’s due process rights. The Commission admonished the judge for violating Canons 1, 2(A) and 3(A)(1), and warned that future similar misconduct might result in a public charge.
A judge was cautioned for their inaction as chief judge regarding a referee with their court’s Friend of the Court.
The referee had a problematic work history with the court, and did not appear for a hearing. That was a violation of the referee’s duty under Canon 1 to be aware that the judicial system is for the benefit of the litigant and the public, and not the judiciary. The Commission found that the referee’s absence, under the circumstances, was a failure to observe high standards of fidelity, diligence, and courtesy to litigants and lawyers, and was unprofessional, requiring some action by the chief judge.
The Commission noted that the chief judge did nothing to the address the referee’s failure to appear, including even something so nominal as reviewing the matter with them to stress the importance of tending to their duties as a referee. The Commission stressed that Canon 3(B) requires a judge to diligently discharge administrative duties, direct court staff and officials to observe high standards of fidelity, diligence, and courtesy to litigants and lawyers with whom they deal in their official capacity and take or initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against a judge (which includes any judicial officer) or lawyer for unprofessional conduct of which the judge may become aware. It concluded that the judge’s failure to supervise violated Canon 3(B). The Commission noted that the chief judge also violated Canon 1 as a failure to act as though the judicial system is for the benefit of the litigant and the public, and not the judiciary.
A judge attended an event given on their behalf by their court staff and family. The judge’s staff participated in planning and sold tickets for admission. At the event the judge accepted a large monetary gift, which represented proceeds from the ticket sales, some of which were purchased by attorneys who appeared before the judge.
The Commission accepted the judge’s assertion that they were genuinely surprised by the event and that they were not involved in the preparations or sale of tickets. The Commission also recognized that the judge donated most of the money to charity, but noted that they only did so after the matter had become known.
The Commission found that the staff’s raising money for the event violated Canon 2(C)’s prohibition against the use of judicial office for personal benefit. It also found that the fact that the money came from tickets sold by the judge’s staff for an event planned by the judge’s staff made this gift more than an ordinary gift. It therefore violated now-Canon 4(E)(4)(c), which now forbids gifts greater than $375. The Commission also determined that accepting such a large gift in these circumstances created an appearance of impropriety in violation of Canon 2(A).
The Commission stated that even if the event and the gift were the staff’s idea and doing, it was the judge’s reputation, and the dignity of the judiciary and all judges, that suffered. The Commission dismissed with a caution that the judge is responsible for their own conduct as well the conduct of their staff, and further cautioned the judge to remind their staff to adhere to the canons just as the judge must.