On Thursday, May 25, 2023, the Judicial Tenure Commission released its 2022 annual report. The report informs the public and all branches of state government about the commission’s duties, operations, and actions for the year 2022.

The Judicial Tenure Commission, functions as an independent state agency, as it holds the responsibility of upholding high ethical standards for judges. It recognizes the necessity for judges to exercise independent and conscientious judgment in fairly resolving each case they oversee, the commission seeks to maintain accountability for judicial misconduct through an effective disciplinary system. This entails the challenging task of simultaneously safeguarding the public from unethical judicial behavior, preserving the judiciary’s institutional integrity, and ensuring that baseless complaints do not hinder the crucial work performed by judges. To achieve these objectives, the commission diligently investigates allegations of judicial misconduct and disability, conducts hearings when appropriate, recommends sanctions to the Michigan Supreme Court, and actively strives to strengthen the judiciary’s overall integrity.

In 2022, the Judicial Tenure Commission received approximately 800 requests for its “Request for Investigation” forms, excluding downloads from its website. Among these requests are 507 formal complaints that were filed, involving a total of 294 judges. Interestingly, the commission observed a decline in grievances received during 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years, although the exact reasons for this decrease remain unclear. It is possible that the impact of the pandemic played a role in this decline. However, despite the overall decrease in grievances, the number of meritorious grievances remained consistent, indicating that the quality of complaints did not diminish. In fact, the commission has observed a higher number of grievances resulting in thorough investigations since 2017 compared to preceding years. The grievances encompassed a wide range of claims, with a notable percentage involving allegations of legal errors or dissatisfaction with a judge’s discretionary handling of judicial responsibilities. It is worth noting that such claims fall outside the realm of misconduct within the commission’s authority.

In total, the commission resolved 461 requests for investigation concerning 268 judges.  Out of the 461 grievances addressed in 2022, 431 cases concluded with no evidence of misconduct found after a thorough evaluation of the pertinent information. This indicates that either the grievances contained allegations that, even if true, would not amount to misconduct, or subsequent investigation revealed that the allegations were baseless or could not be substantiated. In some instances, the judge provided a satisfactory explanation for the situation, while in other cases, the commission lacked jurisdiction to address the matter.

Over the past decade, the Judicial Tenure Commission has consistently received a steady number of grievances. Similarly, the number of grievances resolved remained relatively stable until an unexplained rise in complex investigations emerged in 2017. This increase, combined with limited staff resources, significantly slowed down the pace of resolving investigations and led to an excessive backlog of cases.

Moreover, the commission explained further that roughly 40% of the investigation requests received in 2022 aimed to have the Judicial Tenure Commission assess the merits of the underlying case. However, as the commission lacks the authority to function as an appellate court, these matters were dismissed unless they also presented evidence of judicial misconduct. Another third of the requests alleged judicial bias.

In 2022, the majority of grievances filed were related to criminal cases, domestic relations matters, and general civil cases, which collectively accounted for 75% of the investigation requests. An additional 6% of the requests were associated with probate cases.

Interestingly, circuit court judges, who make up less than 20% of the judiciary, were the subject of half of the grievances filed in 2022. This can be attributed to the significant role circuit judges play in handling criminal and domestic relations dockets, which jointly constituted around 58% of the grievances. District court judges, representing approximately 20% of the judiciary, were the subject of approximately 28% of the filed grievances. The “Other” category includes retired judges and individuals outside the commission’s jurisdiction, such as federal judges, administrative law judges, and lawyers.

In terms of the case summaries, there is a total of seven judicial misconduct cases that were reported for the year 2022 namely: In the matter of Hon. Bryon Konshuc; In the matter of Kahlilia Y. Davis; In the matter of Hon.Bruce U. Morrow; In the matter of Hon.Tracy E. Green; In the matter of Hon.Paul J. Cusick; In the matter of Hon.Demetria Brue, and; In the matter of Hon.Debra Nance.

In the area of resolutions, the Commission reported that the Judicial Tenure Commission filed three public complaints, all of which remained unresolved by the end of the year. Similarly, two public complaints filed in 2020 were still pending at the year’s conclusion. However, one public complaint from 2019 and one from 2020 was resolved in 2022.

Additionally, the commission resolved fourteen investigations through letters of explanation, caution, or admonition in 2022. The remaining grievances were resolved through dismissal, including cases involving judges who resigned or retired while under investigation.

In its conclusion the commission stated that it experienced improvements in its public service throughout 2022, aided by increased staff and additional support from the Michigan legislature. These developments are expected to further enhance the commission’s service to the public in 2023. The commission remains dedicated to upholding the integrity, independence, and fairness of Michigan’s judiciary, fostering public confidence in the judiciary’s possession of these qualities.

Source: State of Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission