8:29 PM, July 22, 2014 |
Disgraced former Wayne County Circuit Judge Wade McCree, shown in May 2013, who had an affair with a woman while presiding over her child custody case, got some good news from a federal appeals court this week: He can’t be sued by the child’s father.
By Tresa Baldas
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
City of Detroit
Disgraced former Wayne County Circuit Judge Wade McCree, who had an affair with a woman while presiding over her child custody case, got some good news from a federal appeals court this week: He can’t be sued by the child’s father.
That’s what the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in a 24-page decision Monday, stating that while McCree’s actions were “often reprehensible,” he is immune from lawsuits under the long-held doctrine of judicial immunity.
The ruling rubbed one attorney the wrong way: Joel Sklar, who is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court for help in loosening up the doctrine that says judges can’t be sued for decisions they make on the bench.
“There should be no immunity for what happened here,” said Sklar, who said he believes McCree improperly used the judicial immunity doctrine “as a shield for self interest” so that he could have a sexual relationship with a woman who appeared before him in a child custody case.
Sklar represents the child’s father, Robert King, who is fighting for the right to sue McCree, alleging he denied him access to a fair and impartial judge: McCree was having an affair with his child’s mother, sexted her from the bench and gave her thousands of dollars.
The courts, meanwhile, have long held that judges can’t be sued by litigants. Sklar said he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court reconsiders.
“The fight isn’t over yet,” Sklar said. “We’re not done.”
McCree’s attorney, Brian Einhorn, is skeptical about Sklar’s fight.
“I think he’s wasting his time,” Einhorn said of Sklar’s efforts to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. “I didn’t think there was a basis to the lawsuit when he started it … or after the appeal.”
Einhorn also applauded the 6th Circuit for upholding the judicial immunity doctrine on McCree’s behalf. He said McCree acted appropriately by tethering the father and ordering him to pay child support. That was his job as a judge, he said, adding the father had conceded he owed child support.
“In our system, people are going to be unhappy when a judge renders a decision. And if a judge can be sued because the decision they made — in someone’s opinion — was right, wrong or unfair, then our system of justice doesn’t work,” Einhorn said, adding McCree “followed the law.”
King, the child’s father, disagrees. In his lawsuit, he alleges McCree gave favorable rulings to the mother because of his “desires for sexual gratifications.” For example, he alleged, McCree unfairly ordered high child support payments and forced him to wear a tether to please the mother.
The scandal, meanwhile, didn’t sit well with two courts. Both a lower court judge and the 6th Circuit noted in their opinions that just because they gave McCree immunity from a lawsuit didn’t mean they condoned his behavior.
“Casual readers of this opinion … may erroneously conclude that … we are somehow endorsing Judge McCree’s conduct or going out of our way to protect one of our own,” U.S. 6th Circuit Judge R. Guy Cole wrote in Monday’s opinion, adding “We do nothing of the sort.”
Cole went on to credit the Michigan Supreme Court for — as he put it — rendering “the best justice possible” in the McCree case: It removed him from the bench in March and suspended him without pay for six years, just in case he is re-elected to office this fall.
McCree is the son of the late Wade Hampton McCree Jr., who was the first black person appointed to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the second black solicitor general in U.S. history.
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org