Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) Executive Director Paul Fischer says Inkster’s 22 nd District Court judge should be banned from the bench for good and should have to pay a $81,181 fine.
At a public hearing this morning, Fischer argued before the full JTC that Inkster’s Chief Judge Sylvia James should be removed from her job "permanently."
The JTC is responding to a special report that concluded that James lied to those investigating her, misspent court funds, and instituted a dress code that prohibited public access to the court.
Fischer was given a half hour to argue before the JTC. James’s attorney Mike Morganroth was then given a half hour to defend James.
James was the Inkster court’s chief judge for more than 22 years. But James was suspended with pay earlier this year after an investigation into how she ran the court and handled its funding.
7 Action News Investigator Bill Proctor broke the story about James, which lead to the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) auditing the Inkster court. Months later, the JTC issued a formal four-count complaint against James.
Morganroth said that the allegations against the judge are all false and are politically-motivated.
“This was political in nature,” he said.
Morganroth also argued that the case against James was initiated by a disgruntled employee Pamela Anderson, James’s former court administrator.
Morganroth claimed that Anderson gave false information to SCAO and also removed documents from James’s office safe and shredded the contents.
“What possessed her to do that?” asked Morganroth. “To do harm to Sylvia James.”
SCAO had ordered audits of the Inkster Court. The audits accuse James of financial misconduct.
During a seven-week hearing before a special master, more than a dozen witnesses testified in support of the JTC complaint against James.
Among the witnesses was former Inkster Finance Director David Saboda,.
Morganroth argued that Saboda was new on the job and did not understand that “past practices” allowed James to write checks to employees for stipends, and to issue checks to local charitable and religious organizations.
“Historically, these things were done,” said Morganroth.
James is accused of writing checks to local organizations from the court’s Community Service Program (CSP), which is supposed to be used for non-violent offenders.
“Even if the money came from the wrong account, they were for public service,” said Morganroth about James’s alleged use of the CSP fund.
But the JTC Executive Director Paul Fischer shot back, accusing James of running her court like a “queen,” failed to take responsibility for her actions, and retaliated against anyone who crossed her.
“The respondent continues to blame everyone except the stars,” said Fischer of James, who he also accused of “…taking money from desperate people, who wanted to stay out of jail, and gave that money to enhance her career.”
He said James used the money to write checks to local groups who supported her reelection bids to the bench.
“She set herself up as the queen of Inkster, and no one dared cross her,” said Fischer.
When the CSP fund was withheld from James, Fischer says she would not give the City of Inkster its share of court revenue.
“You don’t cross the queen,” Fischer concluded. "There’s nothing wrong with a court taking over its finances. But there’s a right way and there’s James’s way. She tried to place a strangle hold on the city.”
Fischer argued for a stiff punishment.
“Misappropriation of public funds is grounds for removal. A judge that lies under other should not be a judge,” he said. “She tried to hijack the truth… Judge Sylvia James is not fit to be a judge, not telling the truth but actively distorting the truth to fit her intent.”
The JTC will make a recommendation to the State Supreme Court, which is expected to decide James’s fate this July.
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