Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young has now weighed in on District Court Judge Christopher Easthope. After Judge Easthope’s problems were reported on mlive.com, many Ann Arbor citizens called for the judge’s immediate removal. The chief judge of the 15th Judicial District Court has prevented Judge Easthope from hearing cases; however, Judge Easthope remains an elected judge and continues to draw a substantial salary.
Justice Young released a statement reminding people that anyone accused of wrongdoing is entitled to due process. As he stated: “We Americans have always favored the rule of law and due process. That’s why we require jury trials for people accused of crimes and why we presume them innocent until proven guilty. Those elected to office are also accorded basic due process before they can be removed from office.”
Justice Young described the three ways a judge can be removed:
(1) by impeachment (Art. 11, sec. 7 of our constitution) for corrupt conduct in office or for committing crimes and misdemeanors that requires a majority of the members of the House to impeach and the Senate to convict (remove) upon vote of two-thirds of all senators elected and serving;
(2) by removal (Art. 6, sec. 25) by the governor for reasonable cause (which would not be sufficient to justify impeachment) upon a concurrent resolution of two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate;
(3) Removal by the Michigan Supreme Court. Although Art. 6, sec. 4 specifically provides that the “supreme court shall not have the power to remove a judge,” Art. 6, sec. 30 provides that, upon investigation and recommendation of the Judicial Tenure Commission, the court may remove or otherwise discipline a judge.
Justice Young did not condone what Judge Easthope is alleged to have done or said, but he noted that there is no pending complaint about Judge Easthope with the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission. Because that is the case, the Supreme Court has no “constitutional power to remove Judge Easthope.”
From here, a complaint would have to be filed with the Judicial Tenure Commission, and Judge Easthope would be entitled to an evidentiary hearing before the Commission. The Commission would then make a recommendation to the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Court could adopt or reject that recommendation. As Justice Young noted: “[U]ntil impeached, removed by the governor, or removed by the court after recommendation of the JTC, Judge Easthope can continue to serve and receive pay for doing no work for as long as his conscience will allow.”
It is easy for all of us to overlook constitutional protections when everyone is rushing to judgment. The allegations of wrongdoing appear credible since the statements were made in texts authored by the judge himself. These texts are not inadmissible “hearsay.” On the other hand, even if the texts are reprehensible to the Judicial Tenure Commission, there is still a question as to remedy. The Tenure Commission, for example, can recommend public censure, can recommendation a temporary suspension, and/or can recommend removal from the bench.
In the end, until removed, Judge Easthope will receive his pay—but Judge Hines has the power to keep him off the bench as she has done. There are many lessons to be learned from all of this.