Judge interfered in intern's DUI stop, panel alleges

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Ann Arbor — A judge in the Ann Arbor area went to the scene of a two-vehicle crash last year and interfered while a police officer was checking the sobriety of his intern, according to a complaint filed this week by a judicial watchdog.

The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed a misconduct complaint Wednesday against J. Cedric Simpson, a district judge in Washtenaw County.

The commission said Simpson denied having a personal relationship with intern and law student Crystal Vargas, despite roughly 10,000 text messages and phone calls between the two from August through November 2013.

"We respectfully disagree with the JTC's allegations, and I expect Judge Simpson will be exonerated," said Simpson's attorney, Ken Mogill.

He declined to take questions about details in the complaint. Mogill said he plans to respond to it within the allotted 14 days.

The commission said Vargas called Simpson after her car struck another vehicle in Pittsfield Township before dawn on Sept. 8, 2013. He arrived at the scene, identified himself as a judge and asked the officer if she just needed a ride home. Vargas was arrested after she was given a blood-alcohol test that showed her alcohol level at 0.137, above Michigan's legal limit of 0.08.

At the time of the incident, Vargas was an intern in Simpson's court and a student in one of his courses at Cooley Law School, according to the complaint. The internship has since ended, Mogill said.

The judge is accused of trying to get special treatment for Vargas through the township attorney, Victor Lillich, who eventually disqualified himself from the case. Lillich told The Detroit News he did not give preferential treatment when contacted by Simpson regarding the case.

"We had a conversation and we agreed to sit on it for a short period of time," Lillich said. "It's a decision I would have made whether I was talking to the judge or any other attorney."

Vargas pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. She was sentenced Jan. 21, 2014, to one day in jail, with credit for time served, according to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office. She was given six months' probation, fines of about $1,200, a 30-day license suspension and a 150-day license restriction.

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide if there will be a formal hearing on the complaint against Simpson. Paul Fisher, executive director for the Judicial Tenure Commission, declined to reveal who brought the case to the commission's attention.

Simpson was appointed to the 14A District Court bench in September 1999. He was chief judge from January 2002 through December 2007.

It is unclear if Simpson still teaches at Cooley. Law school officials declined Thursday to comment on employment or student matters.

In an unrelated case, the Judicial Tenure Commission on Thursday recommended that a judge from 14A-2 District Court in Ypsilanti be suspended for 90 days for drunken driving.

According to a JTC complaint, police stopped Judge Kirk Tabbey as he was towing a boat and trailer in Antrim County on Sept. 17 and found he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 percent.

Tabbey was fined Oct. 16 after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of drunken driving. He has agreed to accept the suspension; the Supreme Court will decide whether to accept the recommendation.

Staff Writer Candice Williams and the Associated Press contributed.