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Traverse City, Michigan

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith
Attorney • 231-946-0700

Chief Justice Taylor “fixes” Judicial Appointment

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Another example of "unprofesional, improper and unfair conduct as chief justice". This is how a fellow justice described recent actions by Chief Justice Cliff Taylor that improperly influenced a judicial appointment that Michigan’s Supreme Court was required to make in appointing a new Chief Judge to Michigan’s 37th District Court.

Michigan’s Supreme Court is required to appoint "Chief Justices" for all of the State Court benches from probate, to district, to circuit. The process typically involves the judges of a particular court throwing their hat into the ring to be considered for the position of Chief Judge of their particular county court. The 7 justices on the Supreme Court meet to consider the candidates, discuss their position regarding the particular merits or each and then vote.

In this instances, the 37th District Court had a female sitting as current Chief Judge Pro Tem. Her name was Judge Jennifer Faunce. She was a former state representative and, unfortunately for her, a female…..

Initially, both Judge Faunce and Judge John Chmura submitted their names to the Supreme Court for consideration for the chief judge position. Later, on October 7th 2008, Judge Faunce withdrew her name from consideration by faxing the withdrawal to State Court Administrator Carl Gromek. Since it was unusual for a judge to remove their name from consideration, just days before the decision was to be made, Justice Weaver called Judge Faunce to find out why she had so abruptly withdrew her name from consideration when she was the current Chief Judge and the Supreme Court Justices hadn’t even met yet to discuss who would be appointed.

On October 8th, Judge Faunce returned Justice Weaver’s phone call and explained that she had been called directly by Justice Taylor on the 7th and told by Justice Taylor that there were already 4 votes against her [out of 7 Justices] and that she was going to lose. Judge Faunce informed Justice Weaver that this was why she withdrew her name.

One hour later, at an administrative conference, Justice Taylor announced that the only candidate remaining for the Chief Judge position in the 37th District was Judge Chmura. When Justice Kelly pressed him on what he knew of Faunce’s withdrawal, he admitted that he had called her and told her that there were already 4 votes against her and that she might want to withdraw her name.

The thing is, at the time of that phone call, no discussion had been had regarding the position, nor, had any vote been taken.

Chief Justice Taylor’s actions in telling Judge Faunce that she might want to withdraw, directly interfered with the chief judge appointment process. The impropriety of his actions are best described by the dissent to the appointment of Judge Chmura which stated:

Chief Justice Taylor’s action of telling Judge Faunce that there were four votes for Judge Chmura and that Judge Faunce was welcome to withdraw or stay, before the justices had ever met to discuss and vote on the chief judge appointment, is another example of his unprofessional, improper, and unfair conduct as chief justice.

Chief Justice Taylor’s actions effectively interfered with the chief judge appointment process because what he told Judge Faunce during his telephone call caused her to withdraw her name before the justices of this Court had even met to discuss the appointment.

Chief Justice Taylor has too often mismanaged the business of this Court. Harmful to the proper functioning of the justice system is Chief Justice Taylor’s inclination to act secretly, not openly and transparently with respect to the administrative business of this Court. Administrative appointments of chief judges—judges who are elected public officials—constitute public administrative business, not personnel matters. Judges are not employees of the Michigan Supreme Court. They are elected officials of their counties or jurisdictions and are effectively only employees of the people of their counties or jurisdictions within the state of Michigan. This inclination toward secrecy also deprives the people of the information they need to properly make judgments on the justices’ performance of their duties. The Supreme Court should not be a secret club run for the benefit of justices and judges.

The fact that Justice Taylor manipulated the appointment process isn’t surprising considering the abusive manner that he has historically treated female justices on the Supreme Court bench and the disregard for the legal rights of female litigant’s who have been sexually harrassed at their place of employment.

Chief Justice Taylor is up for re-election next month. If you agree with the dissent filed by Justice Weaver and want more accountability, more transparency and less secrecy in our Supreme Court, then cast a vote for Judge Diane Hathaway who is running against Justice Taylor. Her past experience as a criminal prosecutor and current expereince as a Circuit Court Judge combined with a committment to restore fairness and integrity to the court is exactly what Michigan needs right now.