DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (WXYZ) - "I am responsible for what happens at the 22 nd District court,” those are the first words spoken by Inkster Judge Sylvia James, who took the stand for the first time just before 9:30 this morning.
The special hearing of the Inkster court judge continues this morning and is expected to last about two weeks. James is on paid administrative leave for allegedly misusing the court’s funds and violating other judicial rules.
James also has testified about the controversial Community Service Program fund, which she is accused of spending on charitable organizations, schools and community functions, and events that the state says are not authorized under court rules.
"I instituted the Community Service Program in 1989 or 90,” James said. “Sometimes, violent offenders qualify, but essentially, it’s a program for non-violent offenders”
But after an audit of her court, the accusation is that the judge did not use the fund as it was intended.
Charlene McLemore, an auditor for the State Court Administrator’s Office, reviewed the 22 nd District Court books, which lead to today’s hearing that could result in James’s removal from the bench. James has been an Inkster Judge for 23 years.
McLemore testified that she was sent “as soon as possible” to review the books in March of 2011, and was instructed to pay special attention to the controversial Community Service Program fund account, where court fines and fees ordered by Judge James were deposited.
In testimony Tuesday afternoon, McLemore said an anonymous tip had been phoned into state officials at least a year before her audit found evidence of what the tipster claimed.
An exhibit was provided this morning from the State Supreme Court’s Lansing office about the anonymous phone message left on the finance department’s voice mail system.
McLemore read part of the memo of what the caller had said.
“Court uses a Community Service fund to pay for such items as maintenance on the van…but various unsupported items, flowers, contributions to the police auxiliary, to schools…they don’t seem to have any idea these are expenses that the fund is not supposed to make,” read McLemore.
McLemore said she found the tipster’s information to be correct.
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