Judicial Tenure Commission stayed busy in 2016

By Lee Dryden

BridgeTower Media Newswires

Here's an overview of matters handled by the Judicial Tenure Commission regarding Michigan judges in 2016.

JTC recommends 30-day suspension, censure for Gorcyca

The Judicial Tenure Commission recommended that Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa O. Gorcyca be publicly censured and suspended for 30 days without pay for her actions toward three siblings in a custody battle.

The panel's decision, issued Nov. 14, provides guidance to the Michigan Supreme Court, which will make the final decision on any discipline.

The case resulted from a custody battle between Omer and Maya Tsimhoni that drew national attention last year for Gorcyca's reaction to the three children refusing to spend time with their father. They were sent to Oakland County Children's Village juvenile facility before being moved to a summer camp.

The misconduct count of the complaint states Gorcyca "failed to act in a patient, dignified, and courteous manner; displayed improper demeanor; used a raised and/or angry voice; laughed at the children and was sarcastic."

Gorcyca denied wrongdoing and alleged prosecutorial misconduct in a failed attempt to disqualify JTC staff from her case. In her answer to the complaint, Gorcyca acknowledged being frustrated and apologized for her behavior at some points.

In July, retired Wayne County Circuit Judge Daniel P. Ryan, the master who was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to hear the matter, concluded Gorcyca committed misconduct.

MSC mulling recommended removal of Washtenaw district judge

A Washtenaw County judge is waiting for the Michigan Supreme Court to decide his fate.

The high court heard oral arguments Oct. 6 regarding the Judicial Tenure Commission's recommendation to oust 14-A District Court Judge J. Cedric Simpson for allegedly interfering with his former intern's 2013 drunken-driving arrest and lying under oath at his misconduct hearing.

Much of the discussion involved whether Simpson was attempting to influence the case when he quickly showed up at the scene when Crystal Vargas was involved in a car accident and later when he contacted the prosecutor.

Thousands of text messages between the two were cited by the JTC as proof of some sort of a relationship that would prompt him to intervene. Justices questioned the relevance of the nature of their relationship or the communications, as neither counsel had access to the content.

Simpson was portrayed by the defense as a mentor to Vargas and many other students. He has denied having an inappropriate relationship, interfering in the case or making misstatements to the JTC.

Retired Ingham County Judge Peter D. Houk, who presided over Simpson's hearing as master, found that Simpson had committed misconduct by interfering in the arrest and prosecution in the drunken-driving case.

U.P. judge suspended for 120 days, censured

In May, the Michigan Supreme Court accepted a settlement that included a 120-day unpaid suspension and public censure for an Upper Peninsula judge.

Judge Elizabeth B. Church of the 91st District Court and Chippewa County Probate Court settled in late 2015 with the Judicial Tenure Commission on the penalty after findings that she reduced or dismissed criminal charges and dismissed tickets without hearings or consent of the prosecutor.

During the past several years, Church "reduced charges, dismissed charges outright, or modified sentences in at least 20 criminal cases, without holding a hearing and where she had no explicit authority from the prosecutor to do so," according to the settlement agreement with the JTC.

The agreement states Church dismissed at least 32 tickets without a hearing or explicit prosecutorial authority. It also was found that she engaged in ex parte communications.

The judge had to take on tasks previously performed by a magistrate, her attorney Brian D. Einhorn said shortly after the settlement was reached, adding that the vast Upper Peninsula adds challenges not faced in more heavily populated areas - such as the difficulty of officers traveling more than an hour within the county for ticket hearings.

JTC dismisses misconduct complaint against Wayne County judge

The Judicial Tenure Commission dismissed a complaint against a Wayne County circuit judge accused of misconduct for his handling of divorce cases.

In January, the JTC granted a motion for summary disposition and dismissed the formal complaint against Judge Richard B. Halloran Jr. based on a November 2015 recommendation by John D. O'Hair, a retired Wayne circuit judge appointed as master by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The case involved Halloran granting divorce judgments without taking sworn testimony. The JTC said Halloran acknowledged he had done so in more than 400 cases but specifically charged him with misconduct in only four cases.

O'Hair's report stated Halloran "did no wrong" and there is no law prohibiting the judicial admissions the judge used in the cases.

"My client and I are very, very happy, pleased and satisfied with the outcome," said Philip J. Thomas, Halloran's attorney. "It's a real victory."

Thomas argued that Halloran has the authority to handle cases in that manner. He said judicial admissions without proofs are common in criminal and civil cases.

Published: Mon, Jan 02, 2017