Judicial Tenure Commission

Rockford court case argued in Appeals

October 8, 2009 // 0 Comments

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL This past Tuesday, October 6, found Rockford officials in Lansing in a Michigan Court of Appeals courtroom. Rockford was there to appeal a Circuit Court decision that allowed the current two courts of the 63rd District to be combined into one courthouse in Grand Rapids Township. Your reporters were witness to the morning’s proceedings. Readers should take note of the fact that we don’t pretend to be courtroom reporters. What follows are our interpretations and observations of what occurred that morning. At promptly 10 a.m. the three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals entered the courtroom. The presiding judge, Michael J. Talbot, said, “Good morning.” Hearing no response he said, “We are in for a long day.” In our opinion, that response set the tone for the rest of the proceeding. Judge Kurtis T. Wilder and Judge Michael J. Kelly comprised the rest of the panel. Talbot began by saying that Circuit Courts of Appeal are courts where oral arguments are heard both pro and con. The justices are already well informed on the substance of the cases that come before them. For the most part they are looking for any new information that may assist them in their decision process. Questions may or may not be asked of the attorneys representing each side. There are no witnesses called and, hence, no cross-examinations in an Appeals courtroom. First up was Steven Stapleton, an attorney representing the City of Rockford. Stapleton had barely gotten his first words out when Talbot admonished him to, “Speak up and look up.” Stapleton was somewhat taken aback but quickly recovered and advanced a plea to disqualify Talbot from ruling on whether Rockford should keep a full-time court. Last year, Talbot was one of nine members of the Judicial Tenure Commission that decided that Rockford Judge Steven Servaas should be removed from office. The Commission was of the opinion that Servaas had vacated his bench by residing outside his electoral district and that he also had engaged in inappropriate doodling and improper humor with female staff. The final arbiter in the matter, the State Supreme Court, was later to find in favor of Servaas, allowing him to stay on the bench. Stapleton, in advancing the motion […]

Divided Supreme Court rules for Servaas

August 6, 2009 // 0 Comments

‘JTC put the cart before the horse’ by BETH ALTENA “This court has no duty to accept, even in part, any Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) “decision” because the JTC does not have the power to decide how and whether to discipline a judge…”< Those words summed up much of the majority opinion from the Michigan Supreme Court over whether Rockford Judge Steve Servaas has vacated or been removed from his office. Nineteen months after  Servaas was told he must resign or face public humiliation, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled he will keep his position of 35 years. The 91-page ruling was released after the judges made public their decision at 11 p.m. Friday, July 31, the last day they had to come to a decision. It said the JTC had “put the cart before the horse,” in acting as if it had the authority to oust a sitting judge. It is the end of over a year-and-a-half of publicity, accusations and the possibility that all Servaas rulings in recent years could be invalid. It also cost the Rockford judge $56,000 personally in legal costs—that on top of $100,000 in costs covered by county insurance.< Servaas still believes the fiasco all came from his disagreement over moving from the Rockford court location to a new building. The ruling overturned an earlier decision that said Servaas had vacated his office by moving outside his district, and also accused him of misconduct. “It looks like the Supreme Court came down over political lines,” he said. “Maybe I’m naive about politics, but I didn’t expect that.” Four of the seven judges—three supported by democrats and one moderate Republican—agreed that Servaas could not and should not be removed from office. The other three, and one of the four, submitted separate opinions. Almost all commented unfavorably on the actions of Paul Fischer, chair of the Judicial Tenure Commission. “For me this is the end of it,” said Servaas. “For Fischer, it’s the beginning. It’s his chance to go through this and see what happens.” Fischer has a grievance against him filed by Grand Rapids Bar Association members. In addition, one of the Supreme Court judges who ruled for Servaas also wrote specifically regarding Fischer and the JTC. Justice Elizabeth Weaver […]