Wayne Co. judge accused of using 'sexually graphic language' during murder trial

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan's Judicial Tenure Commission has authorized a complaint against Wayne County Circuit Judge Bruce Morrow after attorneys alleged he used "sexually graphic language," the commission said Wednesday. 

In June 2019, Morrow presided over a homicide trial for James Edward Matthews, who was being tried before a jury. 

The complaint alleges Morrow pulled an assistant Wayne County prosecutor into a private conference, noting beforehand that his remarks would likely make her "blush."

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Morrow listens to attorneys before sentencing.

He sat close and at one point allegedly asked: “Would you want foreplay before or after sex?”

The judge allegedly made a number of sexually charged references.

"You start with all the information from the report, all the testimony crescendos to the cause and manner of death, which is the sex of the testimony," the complaint alleges Morrow said. 

"You want to tease the jury with the details of the examination," he allegedly continued. "You want to lead them to the climax of the manner and cause of death."

The assistant prosecutor reported feeling "frozen" after the remarks, the complaint says.

The complaint alleges that the remarks violated the code of conduct for Michigan judges, which among other things "require(s) that a judge treat every person with courtesy and respect" and "requires that a judge be dignified and courteous to lawyers."

There was a second incident June 11 at the same trial, involving a second assistant prosecutor, the complaint alleges.

After asking the assistant prosecutor why she presented evidence the suspect's DNA was found during a vaginal swab of the victim, the complaint alleges Morrow then said, “all you did was show they (f-----)!”

Matthews, the defendant, had said during the trial that the couple had sex differently because he did not want to hurt the victim, who was pregnant, and cause a miscarriage.

Morrow, the complaint says, took issue with that.

"Does he think his (d---) is so big that he would hurt that baby?" the judge allegedly asked.

That day, after the jury had been excused, the complaint alleges Morrow approached the two assistant prosecutors and asked their weight while "overtly eyeing both of their bodies."

The Matthews case resulted in a hung jury, Wayne Circuit Court records show, meaning jurors could not reach a verdict.

Matthews is being retried before Judge Michael Hathaway; a final conference on his case is scheduled for next month. 

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office declined comment.

Morrow did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

This case will not be Morrow's first time before the commission.

In June 2014, after a complaint accused Morrow of unprofessional conduct, the Michigan Supreme Court suspended him from the bench for 60 days. The commission had recommended a 90-day suspension.

John Nevin, a spokesman for the State Court Administrative Office, said the Michigan Supreme Court would appoint a special master to the case, who will be a finder of fact. After hearing from the commission, the judge's defense and witnesses, the special master will make a presentation to the commission, which will make a recommendation to the court.

The court can accept the commission's ruling or reduce it, but cannot penalize someone beyond what was recommended.

Timothy Kenny, chief judge of the Wayne Circuit Court, said Morrow will not be placed on administrative leave as the complaint proceeds.

jdickson@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @downi75