IMAGE: Clifford Taylor, Elizabeth Weaver
Al Goldis  /  AP file
Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, left, and Justice Elizabeth Weaver listen to oral arguments Thursday in Lansing, Mich. Justices on the court have fallen into sniping and name-calling, trading accusations of unprofessional conduct.
updated 1/16/2007 8:27:35 PM ET 2007-01-17T01:27:35

The notion of black-robed judges as symbols of decorum and civility seems almost laughable these days in Michigan.

Justices on the Michigan Supreme Court have fallen into sniping and name-calling and traded accusations of unprofessional conduct. One justice referred to another as a “very angry, sad woman” and suggested she go on a hunger strike for everyone else’s benefit.

“It’s almost like they’re children, isn’t it?” said Brian Einhorn, a Southfield lawyer who represents judges in disciplinary cases. He said he has been getting calls from lawyers in other states asking about the bad blood.

“It’s embarrassing for all members of the bar,” Einhorn said.

At the center of the dispute is Justice Elizabeth Weaver, an outspoken 65-year-old Republican who was first elected to the high court in 1994. She accuses Chief Justice Clifford Taylor and three other GOP members of the high court of engaging in unprofessional conduct and trying to muzzle her when she complained about it.

The justices under attack say Weaver’s criticism stems from their 2001 decision — joined by the court’s two Democrats — to oust her as chief justice.

In a draft opinion, later revised but recently disclosed by Weaver on a personal Web site she maintains, Taylor wrote last year that Weaver was behaving like a “petulant only child” over the appointment of a probate judge and suggested that she go on a hunger strike “as it seemed to have the potential for everyone to be a winner.”

“We are going through a difficult spell with a troubled member,” Taylor, 64, who has been on the court since 1997, said in an interview. “This is a very angry, sad woman.”

Feuding among the five GOP justices on the seven-member court has gone on for years. It flared up last summer in a divided ruling on reprimanding trial lawyer Geoffrey Fieger — known best for defending assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian — for vulgar comments he made about judges. At the time, Weaver said her colleagues ought to disqualify themselves from hearing the case because of public comments some made about Fieger when they were running for the court in 2000.

Name-calling and accusations
She complained recently that she was called names, that she was told she might be banned from the courthouse, and that she and two Democrats were excluded from case conferences. Her colleagues, in turn, accused her of violating the confidentiality that traditionally protects judges’ deliberations, and hit her with what she described as a gag order, which was later rescinded.

“This makes me very sad,” said former Justice Patricia Boyle, a Democrat who served on the court from 1983 to 1998. “It seems to me this controversy can do nothing but lead the court into disrepute.”

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Weaver is a New Orleans native who came to Michigan 40 years ago to teach French and serve as dean of girls at a boarding school while practicing law on the side.

She is fiercely proud of having won numerous elections to local and state judgeships and does not hesitate to point out that the four other Republicans on the court did not get onto the bench in Michigan until they were appointed.

The rancor could intensify Wednesday when the court considers a new rule issued by the GOP majority — minus Weaver — to keep private all internal memos and communications. The majority wants to consider what punishment, if any, can be imposed on a justice who violates confidentiality.

Weaver, whose current eight-year term runs through 2010, said she will not be deterred from speaking out.

“My contract is to the people who elected me,” she said. “I think they expect me to let them know something is seriously wrong.”

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