The Supreme Court of Michigan recently issued an opinion in a judicial misconduct case, suspending the judge for 60 days without pay. Judge Morrow, sitting for the 3rd Circuit Court in Wayne County, Michigan, received his punishment from the Supreme Court after the parties were unable to settle their claims outside of court.
There were ten instances of conduct that were complained of, however only eight were considered judicial misconduct. In fact, the first official to review the conduct, the master, only found two to be judicial misconduct, stating that though the Judge’s “methods are sometimes unorthodox, ‘his heart is in the right place[.]’”
Judges are expected to abide by the law and also by a code of professional ethics, just like most other professional persons. So, when Judge Morrow closed the courtroom doors during a post-conviction hearing without explanation, failed to sentence convicted persons as required by law, dismissed cases sua sponte, subpoenaed medical records without parties consent, and retrieved a prisoner from lockup and sentenced him without restraints or security; he was making his own law, not abiding by it.
The court in this case states “although judicial officers should strive to do justice, they must do so under the law and within the confines of their adjudicative role.” It matters not where the judge’s heart lies when he is making these decisions, but rather whether he is following the rules. But what about the judge’s punishment in this case – 60 days, instead of the recommended 90 days?
The court drew a distinction between their usual cases, where a judge’s misconduct has resulted in some kind of personal gain (sexual relationships, fixing traffic tickets for family members, etc.), with Judge Morrow’s seemingly erratic and unrelated cases of misconduct. The court also went on to note that these are the type of distinctions that are also normally found and considered when assessing attorney discipline and legal malpractice issues.
So what is the precedent? If a professional breaks the law for a good reason, their punishment will be lighter, but if the professional breaks the law and gains something more than the feel good sense of doing the right thing, the punishment will be more severe? And furthermore, how will this punishment be implemented fairly in future cases?
These are considerations that must be taken into account when determining whether to even pursue a wrongdoer – what kind of end result are you, the injured party, looking for? Punishments, whether it is fines, damages, loss of license, etc., are what the court considers as “making you whole.” Meaning that you were injured, and now “X” amount of damages will put you back where you began prior to the injury.
To put this into context, suppose we were dealing with an attorney malpractice case. In our facts, the attorney allowed the statute of limitations to run and now the plaintiff cannot bring their claim. Now suppose, after investigation, it is found that the attorney had also forgotten to file a few documents in other cases, didn’t show up for a hearing, communicated with the other side without permission, etc.
What if in this same firm, another attorney who is always on top of their game and has never dropped the ball with a client, has too much to drink one night and gets a DUI. Is it fair for the professional ethics board to impose a more serious punishment on attorney two instead of attorney one? Should there be equal punishments since both attorneys broke the rules?
Knowing what kind of result the plaintiff is looking for is often the driving force in a claim. When results start to vary, it becomes more difficult for an attorney to advise clients on how they should proceed. If you or someone you know has been a victim of professional malpractice, whether it be legal or medical, contact an experienced malpractice attorney today to discuss your claim.