The Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday suspended Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Morrow for six months without pay for judicial misconduct.
Last year, the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission found that Morrow committed judicial misconduct by abusing his power and position as a judge when he used sexually graphic language during conversations with two female prosecutors during a trial. for murder in 2019.
The commission had urged the state’s highest court to suspend Morrow, who has been on the bench since 1992, without pay for a year. The commission filed a misconduct complaint against Morrow in August 2020 after the women filed the complaint.
Reached Thursday, Morrow told the Detroit News he was unaware of the court’s decision and would not comment yet until he reviewed it.
Morrow’s attorney, Trent Collier, told judges during oral arguments in October last year that Morrow had used the alleged offensive language in the context of the murder case that Morrow was presiding over.
“They were talking about sex because of the case,” Collier explained. “The JTC takes this entirely out of context. I think it leads to a very skewed view of this case.”
Collier also argued that “it’s dramatically off the mark for the JTC to argue for 12 months (suspension) here,” he told the court.
He asked the court to overturn the commission’s decision and set state rules that he says allow the JTC to serve as both prosecutor and judge in judicial misconduct cases.
Morrow has remained on the bench since the complaint. The suspension takes effect 21 days from Thursday. Wayne County circuit judges earn $156,410, according to a spokesperson for the State Court Administrative Office.
Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Justices David Viviano, Richard Bernstein, Elizabeth Clement, Megan Cavanagh and Elizabeth Welch agreed with the decision and a seventh, Brian Zahra, dissented.
Zahra wrote that although the commission came to the correct conclusion when it determined that Morrow was at fault and that his challenges to their decision were without merit, he strongly disagreed that a six-month suspension was appropriate. .
“The Court clarifies that this is not the first disciplinary proceeding in which the Respondent’s inappropriate behavior in the courtroom has been disciplined,” Zahra wrote. “The defendant is a frequent traveler before the JTC and has failed to demonstrate that he has learned anything from his previous encounters. And as his judicial career draws to a close, a close respondent seems all the more more determined to thumb its nose at the criminal justice system it claims to serve, defying with impunity the commandments of the law and the Code of Judicial Ethics.
Morrow in 2014 faced 10 counts of judicial misconduct stemming from unrelated criminal matters in his courtroom.
The JTC ultimately determined he was at fault in eight of the 10 cases and he was suspended for two months, 30 days less than what the JTC asked the judges to impose.
In one instance, Morrow closed the courtroom to the public and the victim’s family during a post-conviction hearing without giving a reason and instructed his court reporter not to prepare a transcript of the hearing. Additionally, the court found that it failed to sentence a defendant in a third drunk driving case to the mandatory 30 days in jail, once it subpoenaed a defendant’s medical records without obtain his consent and in a rape case, he had rejected a prosecutor’s request to imprison a defendant without bail. convicted of first degree criminal sexual conduct with a person under the age of 13 until sentencing.
Morrow was also accused of personally removing a prisoner from court and bringing him into a courtroom, sentencing the defendant to lengthy prison terms for armed robbery, embezzlement car and firearm crime, then returned the man to the dungeon. The man was not restrained and there was no security in Morrow’s courtroom. The judges wrote that Morrow “recklessly placed himself and others in his courtroom at risk of serious harm by personally extricating a defendant convicted of multiple violent crimes from custody and sentencing him without constraints or safety of the courtroom”.
In the most recent complaint, one of the assistant prosecutors in the 2020 sexual assault and murder trial sought Morrow’s opinion on her examination of a medical examiner in the witness box, according to the complaint.
Morrow got off the bench and had a chat at the prosecutor’s table, noting beforehand that his remarks would likely make the prosecutor “blush,” according to the complaint.
He sat next to him and at one point asked, “Do you want foreplay before or after sex?” according to the complaint.
“You start with all the information in the report, all the testimonies crescendos up to the cause and manner of death, which is the gender of the testimony,” he added, according to the complaint.
“You want to tease the jury with the details of the exam,” the judge continued. “You want to drive them to the climax of the way and cause of death.”
In the second incident, according to the complaint, he asked another assistant prosecutor why she had presented evidence that the suspect’s DNA had been found during a vaginal swab from an alleged victim, then said: “All what you did was show that they (f — –)!”
That day, after the jury had been excused, the complaint alleges that Morrow approached the two assistant prosecutors and asked them about their weights while “openly staring at both of their bodies.”
During closing arguments, Bernstein and Viviano questioned whether Morrow was “at a disadvantage” because the hearings held by the commission were virtual and did not allow him to confront his accuser in person.
Collier argued that the JTC failed to follow court rules in holding the hearing virtually. Murphy told the judges that Morrow and his attorney had had a chance to present their case and that Morrow could have testified but did not.
In the ruling, Viviano wrote that he fully agreed with the majority opinion, but would have felt that the master appointed to conduct the hearings into the allegations against Morrow should have held the hearings in person. Bernstein expressed lingering concern about virtual hearings and said he hoped vaccines would give defendants the ability to have in-person hearings if they so chose.
Writer Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.