Fact-finder says Wayne County judge violated code of conduct

Wayne County Judge Bruce Morrow violated Michigan's judicial code of conduct and canons during a 2019 murder trial by using sexually graphic and suggestive language during a conversation with two female prosecutors, according to a report released Tuesday by the commission.

Among her findings in the 12-page report, former Ann Arbor trial judge Betty R. Widgeon concluded Morrow, a circuit court judge, used "inappropriate graphic language" during the trial of James Edward Matthews in the 2003 slaying of Camille Robinson. 

The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, a government agency that oversees conduct by Michigan judges, filed a complaint against Morrow in Septembe. 

The Detroit News is running a great deal right now for our new subscribers. Sign up here for just $1 for 6 months.

Two Wayne County assistant prosecutors accused Morrow of making sexually suggestive and graphic comments during the  trial, some in the courtroom during a break in testimony and another in the judge's chambers.

According to the women, Morrow asked one of them about a medical examiner's  testimony about sexual intercourse involving the defendant and the victim and asked one of the prosecutors her weight and height.

Judge Bruce Morrow of Wayne County Circuit Court

Widgeon concluded the Morrow committed judicial misconduct. "A judge should treat every person with respect," she wrote.

The fact-finder added that "a judge should be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and should require similar conduct of lawyers, and other staff subject to the judge's direction and control."

 While Morrow asserted that his language was a "well intentioned" attempt on his part to help the prosecutor with his sexual analogies about the testimony of the medical examiner, Widgeon concluded that the judge "exceeded the bounds of appropriate professional interactions and crossed into inappropriate, undignified and discourteous communication."

Widgeon added that "when judges treat officers of the court without courtesy or civility, its subverts the public's confidence in the integrity of and respect for the judiciary."

Five hearings were conducted in November and December on the Michigan Judicial Commission's complaint against Morrow. The report by the fact-finder, referred to as Master by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, will be forwarded to the nine-member commission which set a date for arguments in the matter to be held in front of the commissioners.

The commission, which will meet in April, will conduct proceedings on the complaint and forward its recommendation to the Michigan Supreme Court, which determines the outcome, including possible censure, suspension or removal from the bench.

Elected to the Wayne County Circuit Court in 1998, Morrow previously served on the bench of the former Detroit Recorder's Court. Last year's judicial misconduct complaint is the second filed against Morrow by the Michigan Judicial Commission.

In 2014, the commission accused Morrow of committing judicial misconduct while presiding over 10 criminal cases and sought to have him suspended for three months; he ultimately was taken off the bench for 60 days.

In one of the cases,  Morrow is accused of removing a prisoner from the court’s lockup himself, sentencing the defendant to lengthy prison terms for armed robbery, carjacking, and felony firearm, and then returning him to the lockup, with no security in his courtroom. 

The special master concluded there was “no good faith or other explanation for [Judge Morrow’s] conduct.  Being in a hurry is no excuse for placing the public or anyone in potential danger.” 

In his petition to the Supreme Court in the 2014 complaint, Morrow asked the justices to reject or modify the Judicial Tenure Commission's recommendations, arguing that much of the alleged misconduct he was accused of "comprised of rare and unrelated instances where he allegedly failed to follow the law."

"A judge should not be disciplined over rulings about which reasonable minds can differ," Morrow argued.