Michigan appeals judge pleads in secret to bringing handgun to airport
Romulus – In an unusual move, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge was allowed to privately plead guilty to a gun charge Tuesday.
Instead of being held in a courtroom where news reporters were waiting, the hearing for Judge Henry Saad was quietly moved to a courtroom that was empty, said prosecutors.
The move was orchestrated by the presiding judge, Tina Green, chief judge of the 34th District Court.
Legal experts said such hearings are normally in open court.
“Without commenting on the specific case, it is fair to say that pleas entered in criminal cases are ordinarily entered in open court,” said Larry Dubin, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Prosecutors objected to the move, telling Green such proceedings should be held in public, said Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
Saad was charged with possession of a firearm in a sterile area after a handgun was found in his carry-on bag at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Feb. 21.
He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor Tuesday and received a $750 fine and deferred sentence, according to court records. If he doesn’t commit another crime for 90 days, the incident will be cleared from his record.
Green said the case was handled privately because Saad’s attorney was worried about “death threats” unrelated to the case.
She also said the 34th District Court often handles airport cases with what she called a “plea by mail.”
But Miller said mail pleas involve defendants who don’t live in the area and can’t attend the hearing in person.
Saad and his attorney were at the courthouse Tuesday, said Miller. “A plea by mail is when the person is located far away,” she said.
On Tuesday, the case was first discussed in Green’s chambers, the prosecutor’s spokeswoman said.
Green then moved the proceedings to another judge’s courtroom, and completed the paperwork there, said Miller.
The hearing was a sensitive topic in the legal community Tuesday. Several legal experts and judicial watchdog groups demurred on commenting on the matter.
Saad’s attorney, John Dakmak, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Saad, a conservative judge, has been on the appeals court since 1994.
After filing the charge, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said her office handled the matter the same way it would have with any defendant.
“Airport security breaches, even unintentional ones, are taken very seriously,” she said.
Associated Press contributed.