High court questions judge's ethics

By Ed White
Associated Press Writer

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court has overturned a $14.9 million verdict and sharply criticized a Detroit-area judge for keeping a woman on a jury because she was black.
In a 5-2 decision handed down Monday, the court said the actions of Wayne County Circuit Judge Michael Callahan could be the basis for a misconduct investigation by the state Judicial Tenure Commission, which polices the judiciary.
It’s illegal, the court said, to include or exclude a juror based on race.
“A trial court is not free to disregard rules, orders, and case law with which it disagrees or to become a law unto itself. ... Judges, like all other persons, are required to act within the law,” the majority said in an opinion written by Justice Stephen Markman.
The court ruled in a civil case involving a fatal crash.
Shirley Pellegrino was killed in 2003 when a shuttle vehicle slipped on ice and crashed while taking her and her husband to their car near Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
A lawyer for the defendant, Ampco System Parking, had asked that a black woman be struck from the jury pool because she had been widowed two times and was grieving the death of her mother.
Callahan refused, saying the jury must reflect the diversity of Wayne County.
“Until either removed from the bench by the disciplinary committee or ordered to have a new trial, I am going to seek to have this proportional representation on the juries that hear cases in this court. I can’t be clearer,” Callahan said at the 2006 trial.
“I’m going to do it until I’m ordered not to do it and then when I’m ordered not to do it, then I’ll have to decide what’s next for me,” he said.
Speaking from the bench, Callahan, who is white, said he was the father of six black children.
Messages seeking comment were not immediately returned Monday by the 67-year-old judge or lawyers for Ampco and the Pellegrino family.
There were three blacks on the eight-member jury. Six people participated in deliberations. The Supreme Court said the case would be heard again by a different judge.
Justices Elizabeth Weaver and Diane Hathaway dissented, saying Ampco suffered no “injustice in this case.” They also opposed any mention in the majority opinion of a possible ethics investigation.