Award-winning Judge Brian MacKenzie, of Novi, Michigan (a Detroit suburb) is back in the news again, and just like last time, it's because of misconduct allegations.
When we last caught up with Judge MacKenzie, he had just lost control over his entire docket, due to allegedly ignoring the law, handing out illegal sentences, hiding and sealing case files, and tweaking court transcripts to avoid the problem of having prosecutors present during sentencing. No big deal, right?
This time, a secret recording from four years ago, where he appears to pressure a defendant into dropping a police brutality lawsuit, has come back to haunt him.
The Alleged Misconduct
Want to hear the tape? The Detroit Free Press has it embedded in their coverage.
Here's the short version: in the tape, which is now being reviewed by the FBI, and is almost certain to be headed for the Judicial Tenure Commission for an ethics investigation, Judge MacKenzie can be heard urging the defense attorney to "give up the civil suit and I can get you something decent," i.e., less jail time.
"The offer on the table is, if he agrees that he's not going to sue the police department over the R&O, (resisting and obstructing) they are willing to dismiss the R&O. I think that's a quite a good offer," Judge MacKenzie stated in the secret recording. "He can get out today."
The defendant, who was arrested for drunken-driving, was tasered by police while in custody for no apparent reason. (There's a video of the altercation that reportedly backs his story. According to the Free Press, the video shows him emptying his pockets before a police officer applies a Taser from behind, then kicks him while he's down.)
According to Judge MacKenzie's counsel, the judge's motivation was based on a desire to place the defendant in sobriety court. "Being placed in sobriety court would not only have allowed him to avoid further jail time on three new pending charges but would also would have given him to have a meaningful opportunity to achieve sobriety," he wrote.
What's the Problem?
If it isn't obvious, the problem is the appearance of impropriety (Canon 2 of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct), as well as the "integrity and independence" of the judiciary (Canon 1). It's hard to argue that a judge is neutral when the judge is lobbying heavily for the prosecutor's deal. Though judges may push for settlement, advocating heavily for one party's position is pushing hard into the grey area.
For the prosecutor's part, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, the supervisor of the prosecutor that was on the tape siding with the judge, stated that the office decided early on that they would not press resisting and obstructing charges, and chalked up her subordinate's actions to inexperience.
Cooper, a former judge, was also critical of Judge MacKenzie, quipping, "The black robe doesn't vest someone with intelligence but it should vest them with humility and respect for the people who come before them."
On the bright side, at least on a system-wide level, he seems to be favoring neither side. Last time, he was sentencing defendants to favorable terms, with no prosecutor present. This time, he was tag-teaming a defense attorney on behalf of the prosecution.
Fair and balanced, folks.
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