Disclaimer: One of the authors of this book, David Schock, is a friend of mine. He wrote the introduction to one of my books, Murder in Battle Creek. I consider David a friend who shares my passion for attempting to resolve some of Michigan’s more infamous cold cases (www.Delayedjustice.com) My relationship with David did not taint my review of this book, but in fairness, I wanted to state it up-front.
First off, when I purchased this book I had no idea how big it was – 765 pages. Please get the digital copy. It’s a hefty tome, one you have to be willing to commit some time to. Having said that, is a book that is worth that time if you are involved with the legal profession in Michigan. I’m not a lawyer but I found the book compelling to read. Every college law school in Michigan should be referring to this book, if only as a subject for healthy debate.
The book is written in two author’s voices – that of the narrator and that of Chief Justice Elizabeth Weaver. Weaver’s direct commentary is in italics in the book. Surprisingly, the text flows fairly well from a reading perspective, though italics can get hard to read for more than a few paragraphs.
In looking at this book you have to decide if you are in one of two camps when you have finished reading it. Either Justice Weaver is a bitter person with an ax to grind, using this book to seek some sort of twisted revenge on her fellow justices; or Elizabeth Weaver is a daring patriot who is revealing the inner workings of Michigan’s Supreme Court in a valiant effort to drive change in that high court.
I feel solidly in the second camp. I’ve met Justice Weaver at a Michigan Historical Society meeting and she is far from bitter or vindictive.
Judicial Deceit takes you on a reflective journey through numerous instances which demonstrate the flaws with the Michigan Supreme Court. Justices in Michigan are elected, backed by political parties, and subject to influence by those parties. The narrative of this book chronicles how four of these justices, “The Engler Four,” treated the high court as a playground for bad behavior that in some cases bordered on childish, in other ways on criminal.
For example: One justice failed to disclose that his former law firm represented a client’s corporation whose divorce went before the court. This lack of transparency tainted the process. This was one instance out of several detailed in the book where justices did not behave at the professional standard that we would all expect.
Other chapters dealt with the almost fraternal behavior of the justices. One lobbied to get the State Historical Society to provide them with rings, like a bunch of immature frat boys. Another justice was so abusive to his computer technical support person that he drove him out of the office in tears. The termination of staff by some justices appeared vindictive and politically motivated – with possible grounds for law suits. Some justices had spouses working for the Michigan Attorney General, clearly a conflict of interest – one that went unchecked. While some of these infractions may appear minor, almost petty, they establish a pattern of behavior that is embarrassing.
In terms of cases that the justices undertook, it was clear that they had pre-decided outcomes even before hearing the oral arguments. Some justices had issues with lawyers, in particular Geoffrey Fieger, which slanted their opinions. As a former Michigan resident I remember Fieger as the fiery attorney that defended Jack Kevorkian and ran for Governor against Engler – who had loaded the court with highly politically motivated justices. I could see where Fieger might get on your nerves, but the Justices of the Supreme Court of the state are supposed to be above that kind of behavior.
Justice Weaver began to make public the internal deliberations of the court, warts and all. In her case it was akin to peeling an onion, bringing tears to the eyes of her so-called peers. The Justices moved to block her from revealing their, for lack of better words, shenanigans. Weaver chose the moral high road and ignored this move to cloak the court rather than provide transparency.
Silencing Justice Weaver was an attempt to create a court that concealed its actions and motivations. It would (as Weaver wrote in her dissent):
- “Keeps secret from the people important information of what the justices are discussing and deciding on the court;
- “Keeps secret from the people important information of how the justices conduct the people’s judicial business; and
- “Keeps secret from the people when the justices are conducting the people’s judicial business.” Pg 302
And when you look at those three bullets, doesn’t it make sense that this information should be available to the public? What kind of government would seek to suppress the workings of her courts like this in a free society?
Judicial Deceit did not come across to me like a book written by bitter person seeking revenge, though God knows Justice Weaver certainly has earned the right to extract a little blood given what she witnessed and endured as her former colleagues attempted to tarnish her reputation. Instead Justice Weaver should be commended for having the courage and intestinal fortitude to come forward and lay bare the dirty secrets of the court.
The final chapter of the book outlines how Michigan could (and should) go about fixing the problems associated with the election of justices and managing the court. It is a call to action for Michiganders, a blueprint for changes that would only make the Supreme Court a true level playing field.
My only warning about this book is that it is not your traditional true crime fare. It is an expose’ of flaws at the top of the Michigan legal system. It is a hefty read too, given its size. This is the kind of book that requires a commitment to read. Some of the legal cases presented are complicated and while the book does a good job of explaining the legal nuances, it sometimes requires a little page-flipping to make sure you understand what is happening.
My recommendation – this is a must read for every politician, lawyer and law student in the State of Michigan. For Michigan citizens, this is a call for change. Pick it up and read it – then go and demand reform. It is, after all, your court.