Detroit judge accused of abusing court powers, panel says in complaint

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Detroit judge is accused of abusing her contempt of court powers, not properly recording court hearings, improperly recording others and publishing them online, and interfering in the work and livelihood of a process server for the court, according to a public complaint issued Wednesday by the Judicial Tenure Commission.

The complaint released Wednesday is the second time since 2020 that Judge Kahlilia Davis of Detroit's 36th District Court has been accused by the state's watchdog agency for judges.

While the commission's March 2020 complaint focused on charges that Davis held court proceedings without the hearings properly on record, Wednesday's seven-count alleges a broader range of misconduct. The report runs 59 pages.

Judge Kahlilia Yvette Davis

More:State panel files complaint against Detroit judge Davis

Wednesday's filing is considered an amendment to the 2020 case, said Lynn Helland, executive director of the Judicial Tenure Commission. A special master, or fact-finder, will hear testimony from both sides and issue a report and recommendation to the nine-member commission.

The commission will recommend discipline as it forwards the case to the Michigan Supreme Court, which will decided what discipline, if any, will be issued.

Davis was suspended in June 2020 by the Michigan Supreme Court, with pay, due to the nature of the allegations, and has not been on the bench since. She could not immediately be reached Wednesday night. 

Count one of the amended complaint alleges Davis abused her contempt of court powers. It claims she violated judicial ethics by failing to be courteous to people appearing in her court, making premature judgments, among other claims. 

Count two alleges that Davis carried out a public feud against 36th District Court process server Myran Bell owing to an eviction notice that Bell didn't hand out, having recused himself.

In August 2017, Bell was assigned to serve a neighbor he knew, who lived on the same street. After two attempts, on the third day Bell had someone else place a summons and complaint at the door.

The day before the court hearing was to take place, Davis allegedly emailed two judges on the landlord-tenant docket, Cylenthia Miller and the late Pennie Millender, to share her concerns about Bell.

Davis is related to the person who received the summons. 

"I am concerned that Mr. Bell is not fulfilling the statutory requirements for service," Davis allegedly wrote in an email quoted in the complaint. "The case is set for tomorrow at 1pm on Judge Millender’s docket."

The complaint alleges that "Respondent did not determine whether the person who left the summons and complaint ... was actually Myran Bell," adding that "Myran Bell was not the process server of the documents."

Regardless, from her seat on the bench, Davis allegedly spoke ill of the process server. Then she allegedly started to dismiss cases where Bell had been used as the process server.

In September 2017, "a note was placed on the podium in the courtroom respondent was using stating that no one was to use Mr. Bell as a process server in her courtroom," the complaint alleges.

More:Backlog of complaints against Michigan judges stacks up, risking 'justice denied'

Then-Chief Judge Nancy Blount on Sept. 25, 2017, issued an order that Davis was not to dismiss cases based on the identity of the process server, and to restore those that had been dismissed.

Two days later, Davis dismissed such a case, allegedly without inquiring into the terms of the landlord-tenant arrangement, the complaint alleges. 

The complaint quotes Davis as saying from the bench: "I don’t care what the chief judge or anybody else at the court says. This is my courtroom. And if you have a problem, anybody can take it to the JTC."

Davis continued: "So no, I don’t want anything from Myran Bell in my courtroom. I want to make sure that there is a good record of that. That I do not believe that he has any business being a process server. I don’t believe it. I don’t care what Judge Blount says."

Count three alleges Davis obstructed the administration of the court.

In October 2017, just a month after Davis took issue publicly with the process server, Blount ordered that Davis stop presiding over further cases and requiring she report to work daily.

Davis responded that the court could use available technology to track her attendance. Blount said that response was "unacceptable," and not in compliance with her order. 

After failing to report her arrival times on Nov. 1, 2, and 3, on Nov. 6 Davis allegedly sent Psalm 140:7-10, which reads: 

"Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the
day of battle. Do not grant the wicked their desires, Lord; do not
let their plans succeed. Those who surround me proudly rear their
heads; may the mischief of their lips engulf them. May burning
coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits,
never to rise."

In the days that followed, Davis' emails contained Bible verses: 1 Corinthians 10:21 on Nov. 7, Revelation 21:8 on Nov. 8, Psalm 84:10 on Nov. 9, and so on, the complaint alleges.

In April 2018, Davis was allowed to return to the bench as an auxiliary judge, filling in for others. She remained in auxiliary status through December 2018, the complaint said.

But in January 2019, the issue of check-ins became a problem again. In response to an inquiry about her attendance, Davis wrote, in part: "Because the Ghosts of Judges Past were otherwise occupied with exchanging their black robes for white ones and could not do my docket for me, I went ahead and adjudicated the Business License docket to which I have been assigned. I sincerely wish that you, Judge Nancy Blount, and Kelli Moore would find someone else to harass."

Count four alleges that Davis "knowingly conducted judicial proceedings without an official record."

It alleges that in January 2019, while on the business license docket, Davis "disconnected, damaged, disabled, did not activate, or otherwise rendered inoperative, the video recording equipment in Courtroom 340," in violation of court rules that hearings be held on the record and with knowledge there was no court reporter.

In March 2019, Blount removed Davis from the docket. The commission alleged Davis showed "persistent incompetence in the performance of judicial duties."

Count five accuses Davis of recording court proceedings on her personal cellphone and uploading the footage online.

"In January and February of 2019 respondent recorded on her cell phone 32 hearings over which she was presiding, without authorization as required by Canon 3(A)(11)," the complaint reads. 

Count six regards an alleged handicapped parking violation in September 2019. It alleged that Davis parked "immediately adjacent to and between the two handicap parking spaces in the parking lot in front of an LA Fitness health club in Detroit," blocking the driver-side access of one of the vehicles. 

When Davis parked, she allegedly placed an 8½-by-11-inch laminated placard in the driver’s window, which stated “OFFICIAL BUSINESS” and “THIS VEHICLE SHALL NOT BE CITED OR IMPOUNDED UNDER PENALTY OF LAW,” the complaint said.

This was improper, the commission alleges, since Davis was not on official business. But that's not what she allegedly told a Detroit Police Department officer who arrived after a call from the fitness club and moved the blocked car. 

As they talked, Davis allegedly told the officer she "knowingly parked in an illegal way" and allegedly said she was on official business, the complaint claims. The Detroit officer wrote Davis a ticket.

The complaint alleges Davis tried to intimidate the woman who owned the other car.

The court case was heard in 31st District Court in Hamtramck. The commission alleges Davis "abruptly left the courtroom while the hearing was in progress and did not return."

Judge Alexis Krot ordered Davis to pay a $120 handicap parking violation within five days of the hearing, or by Jan. 15, 2020. Payment arrived in two installments, with the final payment not arriving until July 10.

Count seven alleges Davis misrepresented the truth multiple times, while under oath or under investigation.  

jdickson@detroitnews.com