(WXYZ) - The verdict is in on Inkster Court Chief Judge Sylvia James: guilty on most of the allegations made by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC).
“The Master finds by a preponderance of the evidence that Respondent (James) did misappropriate Community Service Funds.” That’s the first conclusion, followed by similar statements and “findings of fact” about James misconduct in office since 2006.
James was first elected as Chief Judge of Inkster’s 22nd District Court in 1988.
It has been more than a year since 7 Action News Investigator Bill Proctor broke the story that led to audits and a broad JTC investigation of James that resulted in charges against her.
In a 48-page report, the special master tells the JTC that James made her own rules, lied to those investigating her, and misspent court funds.
The report comes from retired Judge Ann Mattson, who the Michigan Supreme Court asked to act as the special master over the JTC case against James. Mattson presided over weeks of testimony that, at times, grew contentious. About two dozen witnesses testified.
Mattson’s report concluded that James used money from the Community Service Program Fund, a court account that held fines and fees collected from non-violent offender cases.
The report also says that James used the CSP money “for travel, donations to local groups, and other expenses that the fund was not intended for.”
It also says the judge lied to the JTC about pocketing court funds that she claimed were used for travel expenses.
James also ignored court rules about how to handle court revenue, the report says. The judge was to pay the City of Inkster some of the courts revenue, but began withholding money from the municipality in August 2010, according to the report.
James also created a dress code that prohibited the public from wearing jeans to court, which the report says also was improper.
“It’s very unfortunate,” said Val Washington after reading the master’s report.
Washington is the highly respected lawyer and jurist who became interim Chief Judge of Inkster’s 22nd district court when James was placed on paid administrative leave in April of last year.
In his first public comments on his time in the Inkster court, Washington spoke about the misconduct proven during the hearing against James.
“It’s clear to me that there were a number of violations over an extended period of time,” he said.
He found a court staff willing to learn and anxious to reverse the reputation developed under James’ leadership.
“I found a court that was kind of spinning in disarray,” Washington said. “The staff people wanted to do the right things but didn’t know how to do them. I think there was lack of direction, lack of training, in terms of what to do and how to do it.”
But Washington added, after some guidance and training, the court was running like a “well oiled machine” at the time of his departure in December of last year.
He also commented on another case element proven against Judge James; that she directed her magistrate to sign arrest warrants in violation of laws that require a judge to sign warrant documents
Washington spent many hours placing his signature on more than 15,000 warrants to comply with the rules.
“Clearly,” he said, “a magistrate does not have the statutory authority to sign bench warrants. That’s a function of a judge.”
James was put on administrative leave last year after serving on the bench about 23 years.
Next stop in the process: a May 14th hearing before the full JTC, where both side will argue if the findings of the master are accurate, or a “thoughtful opinion.”
That was James defense attorney Sharon McPhail weighing in on the report’s release.
“The master misunderstood some of the evidence,” McPhail added, “ and we will challenge some conclusions.”
Inkster Judge misused funds says report
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