Dispute between Detroit judges spills over
A 36th District judge filed a complaint Thursday against the court’s chief judge, alleging she prevented her from punishing bailiffs who lied during hearings, and then barred her from hearing cases.
Chief Judge Nancy Blount countered that she removed Judge Kahlilia Yvette Davis from the docket Oct. 20 because she’s not up to the task. That means Davis is being paid a $138,000 annual salary to do nothing, although she’s required to show up for work every day.
Davis filed an 18-page complaint in Wayne County Circuit Court asking a higher court to take control of the district court and rescind Blount’s order. A legal expert said Friday that Davis’ complaint is unusual, since it’s rare for judges to publicly air differences with fellow judges.
Davis claims in the “Complaint for Writ of Superintending Control” that she’s being unfairly punished by Blount because the chief judge is resisting Davis’ attempts to uphold litigants’ rights in court.
Davis called Blount’s order removing her from cases “a clear abuse of power” and an attempt to “harass, annoy and embarrass Judge Davis.”
In her Oct. 20 order, Blount wrote her decision to remove Davis from the docket was “based on your demonstrated inability to perform your duties and responsibilities as a district court judge.”
State Court Administrator Milton L. Mack Jr. said in a written statement Friday he supported Blount’s decision. Mack said Davis, who has come under fire for failing to show up for work, was expected to give citizens “a day’s work for a day’s pay.”
Cooley Law School professor Curt Benson called Davis’ complaint “very unusual.”
“It rarely happens (for judges to publicly call out other judges), and when it happens, frankly, it’s usually in the Detroit area,” Benson said.
Davis’ attorney Todd Perkins said Friday there’s long been animosity between the judges.
“Our position is many of the allegations that are beset upon Judge Davis are a ruse,” Perkins said. “There’s acrimony that has caused this to metastasize to where it is today. This isn’t about the qualifications of Judge Davis; we think she’s very competent and able to handle her job. We think the chief judge took a heavy hand and did something that’s improper.”
In her complaint, Davis said she noticed in August that “there was a strong likelihood that 36th District Court bailiffs were either intentionally or negligently infringing upon the due process rights of some litigants in the ... court, specifically those litigants in the Landlord/Tenant docket.
“To remedy this infringement, (Davis) took extra efforts to ensure that no litigant in her courtroom was denied their right to due process,” the complaint said. “These extra efforts included the examination and inquiry under oath to determine the veracity of the proofs of services filed by the 36th District Court bailiffs.
“This examination revealed that certain ... bailiffs consistently violated litigants due process rights and even told bold untruths to the court,” the filing said. “On October 11, 2017, one process server was held in contempt by Judge Davis and was ordered to serve five days in the Wayne County Jail.
“Without the proper authority, the next day ... Blount released this process server from (jail), and on that same day, instead of addressing the issue of infringement of due process rights by process servers ... Blount issued an order removing (Davis) from the Landlord Tenant docket,” the filing said.
“Nine days later, without provocation, authority or justification, (Blount) issued an Order ... that prohibits Judge Davis from presiding over any 36th District Court cases until further order (of the court),” the complaint said. “Interestingly, the Order still requires Judge Davis to report to work on a daily basis.”
Blount and Mack tell a different story.
“The State Court Administrative Office has been working with Chief Judge Blount for months to improve Judge Davis’s performance,” Mack said Friday in a written statement. “We expect every judge in Michigan to be competent and give the people of Michigan a day’s work for a day’s pay. So we support Chief Judge Blount in her efforts to hold Judge Davis to those standards.”
Blount said in a written statement Friday: “Based on the performance of Judge Kahlilia Yvette Davis, and in consultation with State Court Administrator Milton Mack, I removed Judge Davis from her assigned docket. She was then assigned to Small Claims Appeals, but ultimately relieved of presiding over any cases, although she is still required to report to work.
“It is disappointing this meritless lawsuit distracts us from our duties,” Blount said. “My Administrative Order was appropriate, given the circumstances. As always, the Court remains committed to providing the best service to the public.”
Benson said there are few avenues for chief judges to censure judges they feel are incompetent.
“The law does not have a particularly great mechanism to deal with incompetent judges, or judges who aren’t good at what they do,” Benson said.
“(Davis) has been elected, and she meets all the qualifications as a judge, so the chief judge can’t remove her; only the (state) Supreme Court can do that, and only if there’s evidence of misconduct or criminal behavior.
“I suppose in theory you could be removed from the bench for incompetence or excessive absenteeism, but I’m not aware of that ever happening,” Benson said. “It’s rare for a judge to be removed, and it’s almost always for a criminal act.
“(Blount) is obviously thinking ‘I’m going to minimize her effectiveness,’ ” Benson said. “There are a lot of philosophical issues: On one hand, we want independent judges, so it shouldn’t be easy to remove them. On the other hand, we want competence.
“Judicial independence is a cornerstone of our democracy, but there has to be some accountability for these judges,” Benson said.
Davis was featured in a March Fox 2 (WJBK) “Problem Solvers” story after the station found the judge hadn’t shown up for work for four months after her election. Davis told the station she missed work because of medical issues.