Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why was this judge not disbarred?

Yesterday, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an opinion (available here) removing from the bench a judge who was in the news some time ago after it was discovered that he "texted" a shirtless photo of himself to a courtroom bailiff and that he had sex in his chambers with a complaining witness in a child-support case.  The court found that (1) the conduct was clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice, (2) that the conduct exposed the legal profession or the court to contempt, censure, or reproach, (3) that the judge engaged in conduct that was contrary to justice, ethics, honesty, or good morals, (4) that he testified falsely under oath, (5) that he failed to maintain high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved, (6) that he failed to avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety, (7) that he failed to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, (8) that he allowed sexual relationship to influence his judicial conduct or judgment, (9) that he failed to be faithful to the law, (10) that he engaged in ex parte communications, and (11) that he failed to disqualify himself when he should have.

As a sanction, the court removed the judge from the bench and, if the judge is reelected as a judge in November, suspended him for six years.

Sounds like a pretty substantial suspension; but it really isn't.  Essentially, the sanction is a way to prevent the judge from running for the position again.  Were he to get elected, he would not be allowed to serve because he would be suspended without pay.  But the suspension does not apply if he is not elected.  So what is the judge to do?  Simple.  Not run for re-election and continue to practice law.  Wait. What? Wasn't he suspended?  No.  He was suspended from the bench.  Not from the practice of law.

I don't understand why the sanction was so lenient.  I think the judge should have been disbarred.  Or at the very least, suspended from the practice of law.

UPDATE (3/29/14):  One of my readers e-mailed me to let me know that in Michigan, to disbar a judge removed from office, a separate disciplinary proceeding needs to be filed by the Attorney Grievance Commission.  So, that explains that.  I still would have liked to have seen the court take a stance on the issue, though.  I would have liked to have seen the court say that such a grievance should be filed.  This is not necessary and I assume the Commission might take on the case anyway, but it never hurts to have a state Supreme Court remind lawyers in the jurisdiction that misconduct should not be tolerated.