Panel: 36th District judge should be removed from bench

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Beleaguered 36th District Judge Brenda Sanders should be removed from office and barred from seeking judicial office until she can prove she no longer suffers from mental illness, according to a recommendation by Judicial Tenure Commission released Friday.

A 17-page report made public Friday but issued by the commission Monday calls on the Michigan Supreme Court to remove Sanders, re-elected in November 2014 to a six-year term, “on the basis of her mental disability and judicial misconduct.”

“The commission further recommends that (Sanders) be prohibited from seeking judicial office until she demonstrates that she no longer suffers from a mental disability that prevents the performance of judicial duties.”

Sanders, who was elected to the bench in 2008, was suspended without pay from her $138,000 a year judicial position by the Michigan Supreme Court on Sept. 18.

The commission, made up mostly of other judges and legal professionals, is also recommending she pay related costs of $19,852.34 in the matter.

A complaint against Sanders was made by the commission Sept. 9, citing several issues, including allegations of “lack of mental fitness,” a fraudulent medical leave of absence, failure to cooperate with the commission in its investigation and alleged misrepresentations in the case.

In March 2014, the commission requested Sanders submit to an independent psychiatrist for evaluations into her mental capacity and with an orthopedic surgeon for medical examinations regarding complaints she was having knee problems, for which she sought the medical leave.

The commission held judicial disciplinary hearings in December. Sanders did not appear for the proceedings, but was represented by her attorney, Cyril Hall.

In February, the nine-member panel held a second hearing. Sanders failed to appear at that hearing and announced through Hall she would resign, but that has not happened.

On Friday, Hall said he was disappointed and shocked over the commission’s recommendations.

“She should have been given the benefit of treatment,” Hall said. “If they believed she suffered from mental illness ... which developed during the course of her work ... it should be treated as opposed to removing her.”

Hall added the commission could also have recommended allowing the judge to be treated and then allowing her to get her job back.

In January, the fact finder in the judicial disciplinary proceedings released his report saying the jurist is “psychotic.”

“Her mental disability renders her unfit to sit as a judge. Her illness prevents her from being able to properly perform judicial duties,” retired Wayne County Circuit Judge Michael Sapala said in his conclusion.

But Sanders said in an email to The Detroit News late last year she does not suffer from “paranoid delusions” as a psychiatrist testified during the disciplinary hearing for Sanders.

“The psychiatrist that made findings that I was delusional and mentally impaired has never interviewed me or evaluated me for mental disability in any way,” Sanders wrote.

The commission also added it “appreciates the difficulties associated with mental illness and recognizes that (Sanders) mental illness may have been an underlying factor in the misconduct (Sanders is accused of).”

But the evidence in the case “revealed a pattern of dishonesty,” the commissioners said.

“The evidence showed that (Sanders) secured a leave of absence from work on the basis of false representations that she was physically disabled from working and that she was to have imminent surgeries,” according to the report released on Friday.

The matter now goes to the Michigan Supreme Court which will schedule oral arguments and make the final decision on Sanders.

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