(WXYZ) Inkster, Mich. - The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission is investigating misconduct complaints made aganist Chief Judge Sylvia James. James has been on paid suspension from the 22nd District Court in Inkster since April, after an audit of her court..
Judicial Tenure Commission complaints, and the investigations that follow, are kept secret. But in the case of Inkster’s chief judge, the JTC probe was revealed to Action News by her attorney, Phil Thomas, who was at one time a member of the JTC.
“I am representing Judge James regarding the request for investigation that was authorized by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission back in May,” said Thomas. “She has done nothing wrong, and may have been treated unfairly by the system," he said.
The Inkster City Council, through its attorney David Jones, had expressed concerns since last fall over James’ decision to close court bank accounts. James closed the accounts after the council sought to put the names of the city manager and treasurer on them. Jones said the council wanted to monitor how court funds were spent since mandated payments of court collections to the city were seldom on time.
“They have had a constant problem where the 22nd District Court has been slow, as much as six months behind in transferring that revenue the court collects, and holds in trust for the city, over to the general fund,” Jones said.
State Supreme Court Area Regional Administrator Deb Green said she received complaints about James from Inkster city leaders and believes some were politically-motivated. But Green also told Action News, “There are some administrative concerns that have been raised in some of these complaints as well, such as the management of the bank accounts.”
An Action News investigation first broke the story in February that revealed problems with how James used court funds. Our report showed that she paid herself a gun allowance and for robes she wore on the bench. It also showed bookkeeping discrepancies. Not long after our report, the State Supreme Court conducted an audit of her court. Their audit shows nearly three dozen administrative problems, many focusing on how James handled court funds. The high court then suspended James with pay.
Attorney Thomas says the suspension of James was not fair.
“Judge James is a very bright, articulate woman. She didn’t see the writing on the wall. There has to be evidence that the judge has violated the obligations that he or she has…to serve as a judge of this state,” said Thomas.
Thomas is optimistic James will survive the JTC investigation, and will return to the bench before the end of the year.
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