Legal Ethics

Mich. Supreme Court Removes Judge Over Misappropriation of Funds, Other Misconduct

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The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered the removal of a Detroit-area judge who was found guilty in April of judicial misconduct including misappropriating public funds intended for crime victims, knowingly hiring an unqualified magistrate and instituting a dress code that denied some litigants access to the courthouse.

Under the order, Inkster District Court Sylvia James will only be removed from the bench for the remainder of her term, which ends Dec. 31, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reported. James is currently running for re-election in November for another six-year term.

The court, in its order (PDF) Tuesday, also directed the state’s Judicial Tenure Commission to submit an itemized bill for its costs associated with prosecuting the disciplinary complaint against James, which the court said may be factored into any order of restitution James might be required to pay.

In its opinion (PDF posted by Free Press), the court said the “cumulative effect” of James’ misconduct, “coupled with its duration, nature and pervasiveness,” warranted the judge’s removal from the bench.

“Judge James’ misconduct persisted for years permeating and infecting every corner of the 22nd District Court,” the opinion said.

Two of the justices said they would have conditionally suspended James for six years, saying the current punishment doesn’t sufficiently address the continuing harm James’ sustained pattern of misconduct and disregard for the law has had on the integrity of the judiciary or the likelihood that that harm will continue if she wins her bid for re-election.

James’ lawyer, Sharon McPhail, said she didn’t think the punishment was fair.

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