(WXYZ) DETROIT - The 7 Action News Investigators are exposing a local judge who is shortchanging the taxpayers and putting justice on hold.
She shows up late for work and leaves people waiting in her courtroom for hours.
Investigator Scott Lewis started tracking this judge after a complaint from a 7 Action News viewer who asked us to hold her accountable.
Judge Sheila Gibson is scheduled to put in an eight-hour day like most of us, but while we were watching with our undercover camera a typical work day was about five hours. On top of that, this Wayne County Juvenile Court judge is keeping lots of people waiting, wasting their time and money.
On a recent Thursday morning, we caught Judge Gibson on our undercover camera pulling out of her subdivision in Detroit's Palmer Woods neighborhood heading into work. We followed her to the courthouse.
It was almost 11 o'clock when she finally got to work. She was supposed to be in at 8:30 a. m. and her first case was on the docket for 9 a. m. Lots of people were waiting for her for two hours.
It was a parent who contacted the 7 Action News Investigators asking us to look into the judge's work schedule. We are not identifying him, because his son still has a case pending before Judge Gibson.
"We had to show up at nine o'clock and then she wouldn't show up until she felt like it, you know, 12:00 to 12:30 in the afternoon," the dad said.
He told us that his son had to go before Gibson after a scrape with the law and that the judge's tardiness cost him and others in the courtroom a significant amount of money.
"My attorney, I had to get rid of him because of the cost, I couldn't pay him for three hours to sit there," said the dad.
Judge Gibson earns just under $140,000 per year and it's clear from our investigation that the taxpayers are not getting their money's worth.
We tracked Gibson for five days straight and she never put in one full work day.
On Monday, October 15th, she strolled into work at 10:55 a.m.
The next day, October 16th, she arrived at 10:38 a.m.
On Wednesday, October 17th, we watched her pull into the courthouse at 10:58 a.m.
On Thursday, October 18 th it was a 10:30 a. m. arrival.
And on October 19 th, Gibson showed up at 10:05 a. m.
On all five of those days and she did not take the bench until 11:00 a. m., or a few minutes before. On each of the days she had cases on the docket at 9 a. m. and people were left waiting.
Our investigation reveals that Gibson's start time is not the only problem. We also caught her bailing out of work early.
Courthouse hours are 8:30 a. m. to 4:30 p. m., but on most days she left work by 4 p. m. or earlier. The longest day she worked while we were watching, was five hours and twenty-six minutes. Most days, she worked around five hours.
Six days into our investigation, things took an unexpected turn. A 7 Action News producer was taking Gibson's picture from a second floor window as she walked into the courthouse from her parking space with a Wayne County Sheriff's deputy escorting her.
Courthouse sources told Action News that Gibson spotted our producer and that she knew someone was checking up on her work hours. But, she didn't know who it was.
So did that scare her straight? Oh, no.
Gibson just changed up her routine, abandoning her reserved parking spot right next to the courthouse door and hiding her car in a secluded lot between court buildings not visible from the street. She parked her SUV in a spot reserved for skilled tradesmen.
Once we located her new parking spot, we followed her again and watched her pull into her secret spot at 9:40 a. m. When we returned at 2 p. m., her car was gone. At 2:15, our undercover camera caught her pulling into her subdivision and we watched her go into her home. At 3 p.m. she pulled out of her subdivision again and headed north into Ferndale, in the opposite direction of the courthouse.
Then, things took another unexpected turn. It was obvious that Gibson had spotted us tailing her. She pulled her car at a cockeyed angle into a parking spot on Woodward Avenue and stared at us as we drove past. We decided to keep driving and let her go.
A few minutes later, we found her car back at the courthouse, but not for long. She left for the day at 4:14 p.m., sixteen minutes before closing time. It was another five hour day.
Courthouse sources told 7 Action News that this short work day routine has been going on for years. Sources said everybody at the courthouse knows about it and it's a running joke with people guessing what time Gibson will show up.
So how does she get away with it?
"There's no accountability down there," said the dad who was stuck with big attorney fees waiting for Gibson to show up for work.
"And you know I'm accountable,
you're accountable, we all need to be accountable," he said.
After six days of slacking, the 7 Action News Investigators decided it was time for an unscheduled accountability session, a "side-bar conversation" with the judge. We approached Gibson as she showed up for work around 10 a.m. and pulled into her new hidden-away parking space. When Gibson saw 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis walking toward her with a photographer, she put her SUV into reverse and started backing out.
"Your honor, I'd like to ask you some questions about your work hours," Lewis shouted through her closed driver's-side window.
"You're a little late aren't you?" he asked.
Gibson didn't answer but finally rolled her window down when Lewis persisted.
"My mother's passed and her birthday was yesterday. It's not a good day for me." Gibson said, ignoring his questions about her short work days.
"Well I'm sorry about that but your work hours are not standard. You're not working eight hours a day. We've been watching your honor and we have video to show it," Lewis told the judge.
"Okay," Gibson replied.
"You've been working five hour days most days. People are waiting in your courtroom for two hours," Lewis continued.
With that, the juvenile court judge mumbled something unintelligible, waived Lewis off and drove away. She was later escorted into the building by two sheriff's deputies.
The Dad who called the 7 Action News Investigators said he hopes this story will get Gibson to clean up her act.
"I'd like to see her do her job, show up and respect everybody else. You know, she's getting paid for it. Show up at 9 o'clock like the rest of the court," the dad said.
According to a spokesman for the Michigan Supreme Court, court rules require judges to be on the bench on time. Rule MCR 8.116 states that "a definite time must be set for all court sessions, and the judge shall promptly open a session".
One of the court's judicial canons also says that "a judge should a treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.
But there is no mechanism for tracking judge's work hours to make sure they get to work on time.
The Supreme Court spokesperson told 7 Action News that judges are on the honor system when it comes to work hours.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Virgil Smith is the chief judge over the 3rd Circuit, which includes the juvenile court. We asked Smith who holds judges accountable for putting in a full-day's work.
Smith said that the public holds them accountable because judges are subject to election. He said 7 Action News would also hold them accountable through our investigation. He said he looked forward to watching our story and holding them accountable too.