Ex-chief justice writes book about state high court

Weaver alleges court often rules on behalf of special interest groups

By Glen Puit
Traverse City Record-Eagle

GLEN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court is corrupted by “dark money,” secrecy and ideology.

So contends former Supreme Court Chief Justice Elizabeth Weaver, a Republican from Glen Arbor, who’s co-authored a book in which she alleges Michigan’s highest court often rules on behalf of special interest groups that bankroll judges’ election campaigns, as opposed to the merits of cases.

“In the $18.6 million spent last time for the Supreme Court, two-thirds or three-fourths was dark money,” Weaver told the Traverse City Record-Eagle,  referencing judicial campaign contributions that can’t be tracked to individuals or corporations.

“Reform the money,” Weaver said. “Instant, complete, reporting of all money. No hiding behind groups of Justice for People or People for Justice. Every contribution has to be individual, and it cannot be People for Justice, which is a whole bunch of unknown people. It’s dark money.”

Weaver knows how the Supreme Court works — she served on it for nearly 16 years, including two years as chief justice. She penned the book, “Judicial Deceit: Tyranny and Unnecessary Secrecy at the Michigan Supreme Court,” to be released May 15, with co-author David Schock because she believes the public needs to know the state’s highest court is broken and that citizens need to demand immediate reform.

“I have a duty to a public that needs to know,” Weaver said. “The book is filled with examples (of) the deceit, the abuse of power, about what they’ve done to employees (who) are in the way, judges who are in the way, or who have the nerve to stand up.”

Weaver’s tenure on the court from 1994 to 2010 was stormy at times. She repeatedly advocated for more transparency on the court and clashed with her colleagues. Her fellow justices rebuked Weaver for secretly recording a 2006 internal discussion in which she participated by telephone. She also released a transcript in which a fellow justice, Justice Robert Young Jr. — now the court’s chief judge — purportedly used a racial slur. Young is African American.

Several court officials, past and present, either did not return calls or declined comment. Young declined comment through a spokewoman, noting Weaver is the only justice ever to be censured by the Supreme Court. The censure was the result of her recording conversations of her colleagues and making a transcript public.

Among the book’s highlights:

Money is raised from special interest groups for judicial campaigns without putting the candidate in jeopardy for compromising judicial neutrality. Weaver described it as “they don’t even have to (make promises) you just have people raise the money for you, you can maybe sit outside the room and smile. You make statements about how conservative you are, how liberal you are — general statements as if you are going to decide on ideology as opposed to the individual facts of the case.”

Weaver’s belief that several justices deliberately tried to make new law in a controversial Grand Rapids adoption case in 2003 in which an adoption was reversed by the court and a child was returned to her biological mother in Grand Rapids. Weaver says the court pretended to have an independent, neutral hearing on the matter when, in fact, several justices had already decided how they were going to vote and wrote the majority opinion ahead of the hearing.

Weaver contends the Supreme Court was all over the place when it came to pursuing disciplinary proceedings for judges. It persecuted some judges, she said, while it “went soft” on others, including Thomas S. Gilbert, 86th District Court judge from Traverse City. Gilbert smoked some marijuana at a Rolling Stones concert in Detroit and later admitted to being a regular marijuana user during his years on the bench. In the book, Weaver describes the court’s disciplinary actions against Gilbert as secretive, soft and misleading.
Weaver hopes her book helps change the judicial system for the better, including more openness and transparency on the court. More information is available at www.judicialdeceit.com.

“There is tyranny through the exercise, abuse and misuse of the government’s powers in how the cases are handled and how people and their rights are treated,” Weaver said. “It is done in secrecy and it encourages the worst aspects of human behavior.”

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