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146802 - In re Hon. Bruce U. Morrow

In The Matter of
Honorable BRUCE U. MORROW
3rd Judicial Circuit Court
 
Donald Campbell
 
 
 
 
 
 
Before the Judicial Tenure Commission
 
Paul J. Fischer


Summary

​The Judicial Tenure Commission filed a formal complaint against Wayne County Circuit Judge Bruce Morrow, alleging that the judge committed judicial misconduct while presiding over 10 criminal cases.  Retired Judge Edward Sosnick was appointed as a special master; following an evidentiary hearing, he concluded that Morrow committed misconduct in two cases.

In the first case, People v McGee, Morrow refused to follow MCL 770.9b and remand to jail a defendant who had just been convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a person under the age of 13.  Although the prosecutor pointed out the statute, Morrow ruled that the defendant would be allowed to be free on bond.  The prosecutor obtained immediate relief from the Court of Appeals, which ruled that Morrow had a clear legal duty to detain the defendant.  The special master concluded that Judge Morrow had “no good faith reason” to “completely ignore a mandatory statutory provision.” 

In the second case, People v Hill, Morrow removed a prisoner from the court’s lockup, sentenced him to lengthy prison terms for armed robbery, carjacking, and felony-firearm, and returned him to the lockup, with no security in his courtroom.  The special master concluded that there was “no good faith or other explanation for [Judge Morrow’s] conduct.  Being in a hurry is no excuse for placing the public or anyone in potential danger.” 

The special master concluded that Morrow made legal errors in many of the other cases identified by the JTC, but that such errors did not constitute misconduct.  For example, in one case, Morrow closed a courtroom without following the requirements of MCR 8.116(D), excluding the victim’s parents from a post-conviction evidentiary hearing.  The Court of Appeals reversed Morrow’s ruling, but the special master concluded that, although Morrow was wrong about the law, he made the decision to close the courtroom in good faith and with due diligence.  In another case, Morrow left the bench at the beginning of a trial (but outside the presence of the jury), shook the defendant’s hand, and gave a package of documents to defense counsel.  The package contained records relating to the defendant that were not reviewed by the judge and were never admitted at trial.  The special master concluded that this was a case of poor judgment rather than judicial misconduct.  In a third case, after a defendant pled guilty, Morrow announced that he had subpoenaed the defendant’s medical records, without notice to defense counsel or the prosecutor, so that the prosecutor could examine how the defendant was treated by security store personnel who allegedly beat him.  The special master found no misconduct, determining that Morrow was concerned about the defendant’s alleged mistreatment.   The special master opined that there was a “pattern in these cases, but not necessarily as described by” the JTC.  “Respondent’s ‘pattern’ of judging is to proactively prevent legally wrongful results.  Though his methods are sometimes unorthodox, ‘his heart is in the right place’ ensuring in his mind, that justice prevails in the criminal justice system.”

After reviewing the special master’s report and the evidence, a majority of the JTC concluded that Morrow committed judicial misconduct in eight of the ten identified cases, including the additional cases described above. The majority found that Morrow committed misconduct in office, committed irresponsible or improper conduct that eroded public confidence in the judicial branch, committed conduct clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice, failed to act in a way that would preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary, and demonstrated persistent incompetence in the performance of judicial duties. The evidence revealed a pattern of willfully disregarding the law and proper legal procedures, the JTC concluded, and a 90-day suspension without pay was an appropriate and proportional sanction for Morrow’s misconduct. 

Morrow filed a petition in the Supreme Court, asking the Court to reject or modify the JTC’s recommendations.  He argues that much of the alleged misconduct is comprised of rare and unrelated instances where he allegedly failed to follow the law.  A judge should not be disciplined over rulings about which reasonable minds can differ, Morrow argues. 

The Supreme Court will consider whether Morrow committed judicial misconduct and, if so, whether he should be suspended for 90 days as the JTC recommends, or whether some other sanction is appropriate.