Judge James M. Justin, who has been a judge in Jackson since 1976, was suspended from office by the Michigan Supreme Court on July 19, 2010, following a preliminary investigation by the Judicial Tenure Commission. In November 2010, the JTC charged the judge with eight counts of judicial misconduct, alleging that the judge:
- improperly dismissed cases – including some traffic tickets against him and his wife – without the prosecution’s authorization, and entered, or caused to be entered, false information in the court’s Judicial Information System;
- removed valid Secretary of State abstracts, interfering with the Secretary of State’s ability to collect driver responsibility fees and causing false information to be sent to the Secretary of State;
- engaged in ex parte communications with defendants (meetings where the prosecution was not present) and dismissed cases as a result of those communications;
- failed to follow plea agreements between the prosecutor and defendants, and dismissed or reduced charges without the prosecutor’s consent;
- adjourned and delayed cases excessively and unreasonably;
- failed to follow the law in issuing peace bonds;
- interfered with a case assigned to another judge on behalf of a person to whom Justin had previously given favorable treatment; and
- made numerous misrepresentations to the Judicial Tenure Commission.
Following an evidentiary hearing lasting six and a half days, a special master appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court concluded that the evidence supported all but one count (failure to follow the law in issuing peace bonds). Justin filed objections to the special master’s report, but the Judicial Tenure Commission agreed with the special master’s findings. The commission recommends that the Supreme Court remove Justin from office. The Judicial Tenure Commission also recommends that the Supreme Court order the judge to pay the costs, fees, and expenses associated with the commission’s proceedings against him, based on the finding that the judge intentionally tried to mislead the commission.
Justin has petitioned the Supreme Court to modify the Judicial Tenure Commission’s recommendation of discipline. The judge acknowledges some misconduct and admits that he should be suspended. But he argues that removing him from the bench is too severe a punishment, particularly in light of his long record of public service and when compared to sanctions imposed on other judges for similar misconduct.