Michigan Supreme Court Flunks the Test

45217762[1]Michigan’s judiciary earned an “F” grade on the Center for Public Integrity’s report on state supreme court justices and disclosure of potential financial conflicts of interest. Coming in 44th, with a score of only 25 out of 100, the findings are of little surprise to court watchers in the Great Lakes State. Although, Michigan was among 42 states earning a failing grade, and no states qualified for an “A” or “B”, that is of little consolation, with its high court flunking in all categories measured: Non-investment income, investments, gifts/reimbursements, liabilities, accountability and accessibility.

Michigan has the dubious distinction of being among 12 states that have a “self-policing” mechanism for supreme court reporting, determination of possible conflict and recusal decisions.

The Michigan report made special mention of one particularly egregious abuse:

Former Justice Diane Hathaway is currently serving a 366-day sentence after pleading guilty to bank fraud in January 2013 for hiding her ownership of a home in Florida to reduce how much she had to pay a bank during a short sale of a Michigan home. Her financial disclosures from her time on the bench do not list any property holdings because the state does not ask for such information.

Key findings in the national report:

key findings

This report examined just the personal finances of supreme court justices. Democracy Tree has written multiple times about the lack of transparency in campaign finance at Michigan’s high court.

With 63% of Michigan voters believing that campaign money influences judicial decision making, it seems voters are not naive after all. The National Institute on Money in State Politics reports in The New Politics of Judicial Elections in the Great Lakes States, that 86% of cases before the Michigan Supreme Court involved one or more campaign contributors to one or more of the justices. And, that’s just the money we know about because it’s been properly reported under the rules set forth in the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. However, the overwhelming bulk of the money is spent by shadowy third-parties on issue ads, of whom we know virtually nothing.

Last September, Chief justice Robert Young actually joked about money and the high court. Young reportedly said that he “wants to marry” the wife of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Henry Saad, citing his extensive political contributions to conservative candidates as being the result of his rich spouse. The Associated Press reports Young said “it helps to have a very affluent wife.” 

Yep, an “F” seems about right.

Amy Kerr Hardin

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