Thursday, October 17, 2013


Story first appeared in The Detroit Free Press.

Judges from around the state gathered at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in late August, taking time off from the bench for an educational conference.

Two Oakland County Circuit Court judges took those days off and listed them as “educational’’ days on their time cards. But they never showed up for the conference.

Records obtained by the Free Press under the Freedom of Information Act show Judges Rae Lee Chabot and Shalina Kumar marked down Aug. 19 and 20 as education days to attend the Michigan Judges Association Annual Conference. The county paid the $150 registration fee for Chabot. Kumar did not register.

Neither set foot on the island. Both called the time cards a mistake and said they would rectify them.

“It was an oversight,” Chabot said this week. “I planned to go and changed my plans.”

Kumar said she’d instructed her secretary to change the records when she decided not to attend, and mark the days as vacation, but the change wasn’t made. “It was a clerical error,” she said. “It will be corrected.”

Chief Judge Nanci Grant agreed the records will be corrected.

“Judges often request time off well in advance of their scheduled absences,” Grant said in an e-mail to the Free Press. “As we all know, plans may change, and the judges are provided the opportunity to reconcile their time off in compliance with the court rule at the end of each calendar year.”

Under Michigan Court Rules, judges are allowed 20 vacation days a year but can take an extra 10 with the approval of the chief judge. Chabot and Kumar had used their 20 days but had not sought additional vacation days.

Legal experts say judges have to be extra careful how they conduct themselves. Law professor and ethics expert Larry Dubin cited canons that govern judges.

“Canon 2 of the Michigan Code of Professional Responsibility states, ‘A judge must expect to be the subject of constant scrutiny,’ because judges are held to a higher standard of integrity than other people,” Dubin said. “Judges have to even avoid the appearance of impropriety. When a judge has given false information about not being on the bench on a given day, the judge owes the public and the courts an honest explanation.”

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