Was slap that left mark child abuse? Suspended judge who sought to hide son's act didn't think so

  • Print

Michigan gavel

Wayne County, Michigan, Judge Tracy E. Green has maintained that she didn’t think that a single slap constituted abuse, although she thought that it was inappropriate and unreasonable. Image from Shutterstock.

A judge in Wayne County, Michigan, has been censured and suspended for six months without pay for hiding evidence that her son had physically abused one of her grandsons.

The discipline imposed by the Michigan Supreme Court in a July 31 opinion rejected the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission’s recommendation that Third Circuit Court Judge Tracy E. Green be removed from the bench.

Green acknowledged that she was aware that her son had once slapped her grandson so hard that it left at least a partial handprint and admitted that she covered up the mark with makeup. The incident took place before she became a judge.

Green maintained that she didn’t think that a single slap constituted abuse, although she thought that it was inappropriate and unreasonable. She said she applied the makeup because a second grandson was teasing his slapped brother about the mark.

Green also said the mark was not a bruise and testified at a juvenile court hearing that she had never seen bruises on the children’s bodies. She did admit seeing the slap mark.

Similarly, in response to requests for comment by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, she admitted seeing and trying to cover up the handprint but denied seeing other marks on the boys and denied being told of abuse by the boys.

Green’s son, Gary Davis-Headd, lost his parental rights after a neighbor reported suspected abuse. He was convicted of two counts of second-degree child abuse and sentenced to four to 10 years in prison, according to a partial dissenter in the disciplinary case.

The two grandsons had testified that Green was aware that Davis-Headd’s physical abuse left marks on them, and both said there was no teasing before Green applied makeup to the handprint mark. They also said Green had used makeup to hide abuse more than once. Green countered that the boys lacked credibility because their mother coached them to make up allegations so she could regain custody.

The partial dissenter said the children had suffered “horrific abuse” and cited a court of appeals decision that cited testimony by one of the boys. He had testified that he was beaten “at least every other day,” and he generally had bruises everywhere afterward except on his face. Another child testified that he knew that both boys were being beaten because of the screams.

A special master found evidence that Green committed misconduct on two ethics counts. One was for covering up evidence of the slap mark, and the other was for making false statements about her knowledge of the child abuse.

The Michigan Supreme Court agreed that there was misconduct on both counts.

In evaluating the coverup count, the Michigan Supreme Court said corporal punishment is not necessarily child abuse. But, the state supreme court said, “there is no legally recognized right to use corporal punishment that leaves marks on a child that last any longer than a de minimis period of time.”

As a result, a preponderance of the evidence showed that Green knowingly covered up evidence of child abuse, the state supreme court said.

The Michigan Supreme Court also found implausible Green’s explanation that she used the makeup because of teasing.

“Rather, we find it more likely than not that respondent covered the mark with makeup to hide it from individuals who might see it and report it to the police, [Child Protective Services] or other appropriate authorities,” the state supreme court said.

If Green had not covered up the slap mark, police might have discovered the abuse before June 2018, when Green’s grandsons were removed from her son’s home, the state supreme court said.

Turning to the false statements count, the Michigan Supreme Court said Green knowingly made false statements in written responses to the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission’s requests for comment to the ethics allegations. The special master had found the boys’ testimony more credible than Green’s, so her admission that she saw only one red mark on a single occasion on a grandson’s case “can, at a minimum, be fairly characterized as incomplete or imprecise,” the state supreme court said.

But the state supreme court found that Green did not lie under oath in the juvenile proceeding when she said she never used makeup to cover bruises on the boys’ faces. Green said she didn’t think that the red mark that she saw was a bruise, so the statement was not intentionally false, the Michigan Supreme Court said.

The partial dissenter would have suspended Green for one year. Another partial dissenter would have imposed an even harsher sanction, saying the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission had made “a very compelling argument” for removal.

Law360 and the Associated Press covered the decision, while the Legal Profession Blog posted part of the opinion syllabus.

Green’s lawyer provided a statement to Law360.

“Judge Green respects the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court and their opinion dated July 31, 2023,” the statement said. “As to the other issues that were raised but not addressed by the court, Judge Greene respectfully refers you to her petition for review” filed with the court in October.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.