Monday, September 20, 2021

Reduced Suspension For Former Judge

A Michigan judge's relationship with an attorney - demonstrated through voluminous texts - led to findings of misconduct and a sanction.

The Attorney Discipline Board  found misconduct but reduced the hearing panel's one-year suspension to a 180-day suspension

The complaint alleged that respondent engaged in misconduct by participating in ex parte communications via text messages involving “scheduling favors,” sentencing in certain cases, and other matters. The complaint also alleged that respondent should have disclosed his personal friendship with Mr. Nassif to litigants between 2010 and 2013 and that his failure to do so  violated various rules of conduct and judicial canons. In another count, the complaint alleged that respondent disclosed certain information regarding Ann Arbor’s contract negotiations with Mr. Nassif’s firm for indigent representation and, at least, gave Mr. Nassif the impression that he could influence the Ann Arbor City Council's renewal of the indigent defense contract and award of back billings to Mr. Nassif's law firm. The complaint further alleged that respondent failed to accurately respond to an Attorney Grievance Commission subpoena, and made a false statement regarding the subpoena in his sworn statement given during the Commission's underlying investigation of respondent's actions.

Texts

While most of the text messages involved here did not deal with substantive matters or issues on the merits, the fact remains that some clearly did. Furthermore, the colorful, and at times offensive language of some of the messages supports the panel’s finding that respondent failed in his duty to exercise good judgment, and avoid impropriety.

Relations

Count Two charged that respondent committed misconduct by failing to disclose to litigants the extent of his relationship with Mr. Nassif between 2010 and 2013, during which time, the two went on a cruise with each other, traveled to Chicago together, and respondent used Mr. Nassif as a cover and used his apartment in order to meet with a woman who was not his girlfriend.

Those charges were sustained.

Respondent's position has been, both before the panel and now on review, that disclosure was unnecessary as it was common knowledge within the legal community in which he and Mr. Nassif worked, that they were friends. However, it soon became clear that the extent of the friendship was not “common knowledge” within the legal community. For example, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie testified that his prosecutors knew respondent and Mr. Nassif had a close friendship, however, they were all unaware of the extent of the relationship until the contents of the text messages were revealed.

Thus

we find that the record establishes that respondent violated Canon 2.A, B, and C of the Code of Judicial Conduct, as he failed to “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities,” and to “promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” MCR 9.104(1) and (4), and MRPC 8.4(a) and (c). We further find that violations of Canon 3B; MRPC 3.5(b), 8.3; 8.4(b); and, MCR 9.104(3), as charged in Count Two of the formal complaint, are not supported by the record.

Sanction

We agree with the panel that a suspension, rather than a reprimand, will serve the purpose of protecting the public’s confidence in the judiciary and the legal profession and will hopefully serve to deter others from engaging in similar conduct. However, given that respondent did not adjust a decision or base a ruling on his friendship with Mr. Nassif, we reduce the suspension imposed by the hearing panel from one year to 180 days.

Michigan Live reported on his resignation from judicial office

The messages reveal a jocular relationship between Easthope, now 48, and the young attorney, now 31, whose firm had a contract to represent indigent defendants with Easthope's court. They discuss drug use, women, Nassif's firm's city contract and requests Nassif made for special consideration as an attorney in Easthope's courtroom.

In his statement, Easthope denies showing any favoritism in the courtroom.
 
At 9:54 p.m. on Dec. 23, 2012, Easthope texted Nassif: "Oh lord. Getting stoned with the lawyer who appears before you more than anyone? Of course I suppose (redacted) appears before you too. Oh well. We have to make sure (redacted) doesn't bail. (Redacted) says he's getting cold feet! I'm thinking 8:30? And I don't think it's rolled meaning we need rolling paper or a pipe."
 
The next morning, Christmas Eve, the two exchanged these messages starting at 10:11 a.m. while Easthope was at work:
  • NN: Enjoy last night? Lol.
  • CE: Tired today?
  • NN: Nah I'm alright. U?
  • CE: Tired.
  • NN: Hope you enjoyed it.
  • CE: Oh ya-
  • NN: Haha. It was awesome. Dude ur arm thing was hilarious lol
  • CE: I was so stoned I kept watching the movie - my arm felt great! At work waiting for transport. I was carrying on a long stoner conversation with you and didn't know you were asleep.
  • NN: Haha awesome. I like passed out. Woke up and didn't realize u left lol. Hahahahhaha. Wednesday night is gonna be hilarious.
  • CE: I know!
  • NN: We're gonna rip on (redacted) so bad lol
There are seemingly more references to drugs between the two a few days later. At 10:25 a.m. on Dec. 26, Easthope texts Nassif: "Me u (redacted) said bring some pot."
 
At 11:33 a.m., Nassif texts Easthope: "Gotcha"
 
Later that day, the two exchange this text thread between 1:30 p.m. and 1:44 p.m.:
  • CE: (Redacted) and (redacted) acting like scared little girls so I'm out tonight - not worth their drama - let's get a drink later instead -
  • NN: Why the drama. It's gonna be a snow out at (redacted) house. Homos
  • CE: They're worried we'll tell someone and to promise we won't I told him that they were way over thinking it and not worth my time -
  • NN: (Redacted) just texted me
  • CE: I texted him said I'm out
  • NN: If ur out I'm out
  • CE: I'm out - not in mood for drama - Jesus (expletive)
The text messages also show Easthope and Nassif discussing the contract Nassif's firm had with the city.
 
(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2021/09/a-michigan-judges-relationship-with-an-attorney-demonstrated-through-voluminous-texts-led-to-findings-of-misconduct-the.html

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment