Chief Justice Young: Even judges deserve due process

Re: Nolan Finley’s July 17 Editor’s Note, “Judge shouldn’t be paid to not judge”: I am frankly shocked by Nolan Finley’s call that somebody, anybody remove Judge Christopher Easthope from office, because I am quite sure that the Detroit News Editorial Board should have been aware that there are constitutional procedures in place for removal of a judge. Allow me to offer the following lesson on the Michigan Constitution’s provisions for removing a judge.

We Americans have always favored the rule of law and due process. That’s why we require jury trials for people accused of crimes and why we presume them innocent until proven guilty. Those elected to office are also accorded basic due process before they can be removed from office.

In Michigan, a judge can be removed from office in three ways:

(1) by impeachment (Art. 11, sec. 7 of our constitution) for corrupt conduct in office or for committing crimes and misdemeanors that requires a majority of the members of the House to impeach and the Senate to convict (remove) upon vote of two-thirds of all senators elected and serving;

(2) by removal (Art. 6, sec. 25) by the governor for reasonable cause (which would not be sufficient to justify impeachment) upon a concurrent resolution of two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate;

(3) Removal by the Michigan Supreme Court. Although Art. 6, sec. 4 specifically provides that the “supreme court shall not have the power to remove a judge,” Art. 6, sec. 30 provides that, upon investigation and recommendation of the Judicial Tenure Commission, the court may remove or otherwise discipline a judge.

The current Michigan Supreme Court, as The News has noted, has been very insistent on maintaining high standards of judicial conduct and has removed a number of miscreant judges in the past few years. However, in the Judge Easthope case, the JTC has lodged no complaint with the court asking for his suspension (pending resolution of a JTC trial) with or without pay.

Until the court gets such a request, we have no constitutional power to remove Judge Easthope. (Note that Easthope’s Washtenaw colleague, Judge Cedric Simpson, is now the subject of a JTC complaint. Simpson has had the opportunity to defend himself in a public hearing. The court awaits a recommendation in the Simpson case and will act on it as appropriate.)

Chief Judge Elizabeth Hines has acted within her authority to control the court’s docket by preventing Judge Easthope from hearing cases because of the conduct revealed in Judge Easthope’s text messages. Thus, as a constitutional matter, until impeached, removed by the governor, or removed by the court after recommendation of the JTC, Judge Easthope can continue to serve and receive pay for doing no work for as long as his conscience will allow.

Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr.,

Michigan Supreme Court