A judge violated Canon 4(D), which forbids judges individually to solicit funds. The judge self-reported that while speaking at an event honoring a family member, they announced, and then solicited contributions to, a new scholarship in the family member’s name. The Commission commended the judge for their candid disclosure of their actions and acknowledged the judge’s explanation that they added the solicitation to their speech at the last minute, and had not thought through the implications of their position as a judge with respect to making such a request for money. The Commission recognized the judge’s years of service and unblemished disciplinary history.
The Commission dismissed the matter with a caution to be more mindful of, and to respect, the limitations the canons impose on judges, even for noble purposes.
A judge held a show cause hearing to determine whether the plaintiff was in violation of a parenting time order. At the conclusion of the hearing the judge determined the plaintiff had violated the order, and sentenced the plaintiff to serve jail time or pay a fine. The plaintiff then became disruptive and vulgar, after which the judge found the plaintiff in summary contempt. The judge then ordered the plaintiff to serve jail time for the summary contempt sentence prior to becoming eligible to pay a fine in lieu of the initial jail sentence.
The Commission found that in effect, the judge made the two contempt sentences consecutive. Pursuant to the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act, the judge had authority to find the plaintiff in contempt of court for failing to follow the parenting time order. The judge also had authority, under the Revised Judicature Act of 1961, to punish the plaintiff for their disorderly and contemptuous in-court behavior. However, in People v. Chambers, 430 Mich 217 (1988), the Michigan Supreme Court held that consecutive sentences are forbidden in the absence of specific statutory authority. The Court reaffirmed that ruling in People v. Veilleux, 493 Mich 914 (2012). Given that there is no statutory authority that permits consecutive sentences in cases of contempt, the judge’s decision to impose consecutive sentences in this case was contrary to the established case law.
The judge acknowledged that they were aware of the Supreme Court cases, but believed these cases did not control their decision. The judge reasoned that in Chambers the Court had addressed consecutive sentencings in criminal cases, while in Veilleux the Court had focused on consecutive sentences for “similar kinds of contemptuous wrongdoings.” The judge argued that this situation was different from either of those.
The Commission determined that there was no basis for the distinction upon which the judge relied. At no time did the Supreme Court make any distinction between civil and criminal cases in Chambers. The Court also did not make any reference to the similar nature of the seven acts of contempt in Veilleux, when it reaffirmed the principle that a consecutive sentence may be imposed only if specifically authorized by a statute. The Commission found that if the judge was aware of Chambers and Veilleux, they should have been aware that they did not have authority to impose consecutive sentences in the case before them. Therefore, the Commission concluded that the consecutive sentences violated Canon 3(A)(1)’s requirement that a judge be competent in the law.
The Commission noted that while the judge exceeded their sentencing authority on this occasion, there was no indication that they have done so in other cases, and that the judge had no prior disciplinary record. The Commission also stated that they had no reason to think that the decision in this case was made in anything other than good faith, and the Commission believed the judge’s failure to follow the law was not willful.
The Commission dismissed with a caution to the judge to take care not to let the heat of the moment in the courtroom overcome their careful analysis of the limits of their authority.
During their campaign for judicial office, a judge discovered that some of their printed campaign materials, which had already been distributed, did not identify the name and address of the person paying for the material, in violation of MCLA 169.247(1), which reads in part that “a billboard, placard, poster, pamphlet, or other printed matter having reference to an election, a candidate, or a ballot question, shall bear person paying for the matter.”
The Commission acknowledged that immediately upon learning of the deficiency, the judge took steps to correct it, including destroying some materials that had already been printed without the required identifier, “hand-stamping” other materials with identifiers, replacing yard signs and retraining their campaign volunteers on the statutory requirements. Despite the judge’s efforts, some campaign materials without the proper identifiers remained in the public sphere.
The judge’s conduct violated the requirement of Canon 2(B) that a judge respect and observe the law. The Commission noted that this campaign was the judge’s first as a judicial candidate. The Commission commended the judge for their prompt efforts to correct the oversight, and the judge’s prompt and candid response to the Commission’s questions, wherein they fully accepted responsibility.
The Commission dismissed the matter with a caution closely to adhere to campaign requirements in their future campaigns.
A judge presided over a case in which the defendant was represented by the judge’s recent law partner. The judge properly raised the issue of their disqualification, as required by Canon 3(C), unless the parties waived the conflict. The judge properly obtained counsel’s oral, private waiver of the conflict, but did not obtain the waiver in writing or on the record, in violation of MCR 2.003(E) and Canon 3(D). MCR 2.003(E) requires that any agreement to waive disqualification must be in writing or placed on the record. Canon 3(D) provides that a judge’s conflict may be waived as provided in MCR 2.003(E).
The Commission found no misconduct and determined that disclosing the relationship and obtaining an oral waiver of the conflict, complied with the spirit of the judge’s ethical duty and avoided any appearance of impropriety. However, the Commission explained that failure to comply with the literal requirements of the waiver rule enabled a litigant to question the judge’s impartiality. It advised the judge to be diligent to ensure that all future waivers of their disqualification be in writing or on the record.
The Commission commended the judge on their recognition of, and effort to comply with, their ethical obligations, and for their prompt response to the Commission’s request for comments. The Commission acknowledged that the judge’s answers indicated their understanding of the requirements of MCR 2.003(E) and noted that this was the first time the judge had failed to satisfy the literal requirements of the waiver. Accordingly, the Commission dismissed with this explanation.
A judge made comments to a reporter about a pending case they were presiding over, in violation of former Judicial Conduct Canon 3(A)(6), which was in effect at that time of their comments. The judge referred to the amount of times the defendant had appeared before them for the same crime, and expressed the judge’s opinion that state law was too lenient towards this type of crime. The judge also indicated to the reporter that they set the defendant’s bond high because of the danger the defendant presented to the community.
The Commission acknowledged that current Canons 3(A)(9) and 3(A)(10) do permit a judge to make certain comments to the public in the course of their official duties, including the explanation of court procedures, statements about proceedings in which they are a litigant, or responses to public allegations about their conduct. In addition, former Canon 3(A)(6) allowed the judge to provide “public information [of your] holdings or actions.” The Commission stated, however, that even had that been the judge’s purpose, the judge’s reference to the defendant’s situation as “crazy,” and the judge’s dramatic emphasis of the crime, went beyond an acceptable explanation of their bond decision.
The Commission determined that the judge’s remarks not only violated former Canon 3(A)(6), which forbade any public comment about a pending case, they also violated current Canon 3(A)(6), in that they might have reasonably been expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of the pending case. The Commission noted that the judge presided in a lightly populated jurisdiction, and their inflammatory comments could have had an impact on the circuit judge’s decisions in the case, as well as the likelihood that the comments could likely have been heard by potential jurors.
The Commission commended the judge for their candid acknowledgement of their violation of both former and current Canon 3(A)(6), found that the violation was unintentional, and noted that the judge had no prior disciplinary record. The Commission dismissed the matter with a caution to the judge to be mindful of public comments about active cases in the future.
A judge conducted hearings regarding the placement of dogs that were at the root of criminal charges against the defendant. The case received local notoriety. Before the placement of the dogs was resolved, the judge posted to social media that the dogs had not and would not be placed with the defendant during the pendency of the case. The judge indicated that their intent with this post was to clarify the ruling they made due to significant public discord that appeared to be based on a misunderstanding of the judge’s ruling.
Canon 3(A)(6) states that a judge shall not make any public statements that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court. While the post was a public statement about a case pending before the judge, the Commission determined that the judge complied with Canon 3(A)(6) because the statement would not reasonably be expected to impact the fairness of the proceeding.
On the other hand, the Commission concluded that the statements violated Canon 3(A)(7), which states that a judge shall not, in connection with cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office. Had the judge’s social media post merely made reference to their past ruling, it would not have been problematic. The problem was that the post also referred to the future, and appeared to be a promise or commitment regarding the judge’s potential future rulings in the case, which is prohibited by Canon 3(A)(7). The Commission also found that the post made it appear that the judge allowed public pressure to affect their impartial future performance of their adjudicative duties.
The Commission noted that the judge candidly acknowledged making the post. The Commission concluded that the judge made the post in good faith, and that the judge had no prior disciplinary history with the Commission. The Commission cautioned the judge to be careful when making public statements about cases, and to be careful not to appear to make promises or commitments about their future decisions.
A judge officiated a game at a fundraiser for an organization that routinely provides several services in cases before the judge’s court. The Commission recognized that the cause was worthwhile and that the judge’s participation in the fundraiser was minor.
On the other hand, the Commission noted that by participating in the fundraiser, the judge demonstrated public support of an entity that provides evidence in disputed proceedings over which the judge presides. The Commission found that this creates the impression that the judge may review such evidence as an ally of the entity. Accordingly, the judge’s support of the agency may adversely impact the appearance that the judge is impartial. The judge’s participation therefore violated Canon 2(B), which requires a judge to promote the impartiality of the judiciary, and Canon 4(C), which limits a judge’s service with a charitable organization if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge.
The Commission stated that Canon 4(D) permits a judge to participate in a fundraiser as one among many participants. On that basis, the Commission had no concern that the judge had also supported the organization by merely attending a fundraiser.
The Commission advised that due to the apparently close relationship between the judge and the organization, the judge may wish to consider disclosing their support in any case in which the Center is involved.
The judge also advised the Commission of their participation as a guest auctioneer for another agency’s fundraiser. The Commission found that the judge’s purpose as an auctioneer was to encourage the audience to provide more funds, which is exactly what a judge may not do under Canon 4(D). In addition to invoking the prestige of their office in violation of Canon 2(C), the judge’s service as an auctioneer created the opportunity for a bidder, particularly a litigant or attorney who appears before them, to attempt to gain favor by responding favorably to the judge’s encouragement at the auction. It also created pressure on any attorneys and litigants to bid, lest they curry disfavor with the judge. The Commission noted that State Bar of Michigan Informal Ethics Opinion CI-641 found that it was improper for a judge to be an auctioneer for a public fundraiser, because public solicitations at an auction inevitably create the appearance that the judge is lending the prestige of office to a charitable purpose.
The Commission commended the judge for their honorable intent, public spirit and generous support of their community, and dismissed with caution to be mindful of the sometimes not-obvious ways those efforts can run afoul of the canons. The Commission further advised that its staff attorneys and the State Bar ethics hotline were available for consultation in advance of any charitable activity to address any potential concerns.