Legal Ethics

Judge is censured after bringing contempt proceedings against woman who cursed court clerks

A Michigan judge has been censured for instituting contempt proceedings against a woman after overhearing court clerks complain that she had used the F-word in interactions with them.

The woman, LaRue Ford, was jailed for 10 days during the Christmas season in December 2012 when she could not make bail, the Herald-Palladium reports. Judge Dennis Wiley of Berrien County consented to the public censure, the Michigan Supreme Court said in its March 26 order.

After speaking with one of the court clerks in an unsworn conversation, Wiley ordered Ford to be brought into his courtroom the next time she came to the courthouse to pay a reinstatement fee to get her driver’s license back, according to the opinion. He set bond at $5,000, requiring payment of 10 percent, which she posted after spending a night in jail. When Ford returned for a contempt hearing on Dec. 18, which was adjourned at the request of counsel, Wiley increased bond to $5,000 cash, the opinion says. Ford was released 10 days later when another judge reduced bond to the original amount.

When Wiley received an email complaint about Ford from an enforcement officer, he instructed the officer to contact county prosecutors, who declined to bring charges. Wiley then directed court clerks who had originally complained about the woman to prepare sworn statements for the contempt hearing. Wiley turned down a motion for disqualification but stayed proceedings for an appeal to the chief judge, which resulted in dismissal of the contempt charge.

In a news release provided to the Herald-Palladium, Wiley apologized to Michigan citizens and his judicial colleagues, but not to Ford, the Herald-Palladium says.

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