On Friday, June 21, 2024, The Arab American News reported that Plymouth public defender Sundus Jaber had filed a lawsuit against the Regional Managed Assigned Counsel Office, its director Teresa Patton, and judges from the Michigan 35th District Court alleging harassment, bias against lower-income defendants, and retaliation after reporting the harassment.

According to the complaint, Jaber, a Palestinian American who wears a hijab, had previously been wrongfully convicted of a misdemeanor as a teenager by Judge Ronald Lowe, who was now the chief judge being sued. Lowe had denied Jaber and co-defendants their right to cross-examine a witness who had provided false testimony in a pre-trial hearing. Without being able to prove the testimony was false, one of the defendants likely would have been jailed. It’s rare for district court convictions to be appealed, much less have the verdict reversed, but this injustice had motivated Jaber to become a defense attorney.

Jaber was recruited by Patton in July 2023 to be one of two public defenders at the 35th District Court. On her first day, Judge Lowe told her 95% of people were guilty, and she’d be removed if she contested more than 5% of cases. Jaber believed things would be fine since Lowe no longer presided over criminal cases, but she alleges Judge James Plakas’ secretary Kate Wojtowicz spearheaded a harassment campaign to get her to quit.

The harassment outlined in the complaint ranged from falsely accusing Jaber of a crime to interfering with her ability to represent clients. After enduring months of daily harassment, Jaber emailed Patton, Plakas, and then-Chief Judge Mike Gerou on December 7th requesting it stop but it continued. When Lowe became chief judge in January, Jaber claims he empowered staff to increase their harassment of her and pushed Patton to have her removed.

Though Patton tried to get Jaber to move courts, Judge Gerou proposed having her work full-time in his courtroom to maintain her caseload. However, the other judges refused this offer. In March, Jaber’s hours were cut in half without cause. She remains committed to her work despite continued daily harassment, believing indigent clients need advocates unwilling to act as “cogs in the system.”

The complaint alleges violation of civil rights and whistleblower protection laws, requesting damages, reinstatement, and relief from the harassment. Plakas disputes the claims, while Jaber hopes the trial will provide fair treatment for defendants and their attorneys.

 

 

Source: The Arab American News