Government, Human Resources, and Law

Judge v. judge: argument reaches state Supreme Court

April 2, 2014
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Order in the court? A dispute between two judges has revealed disorder at a West Michigan courthouse.

Allegan County Judge Kevin Cronin has taken the extraordinary step of asking the Michigan Supreme Court to intervene in a turf battle with Chief Judge Margaret Zuzich Bakker. She vetoed the hiring of a law clerk who was fired from another job at the court.

But it's more than a clash over a clerk. In a court filing, Bakker's attorney disclosed emails written by Cronin showing the two have had tense exchanges about late courtroom hours and the need for costly transcripts.

At one point in 2012 Cronin told Bakker: "There are limits, Marge. I'm not your junior associate you can use as emotional whipping boy."

Cronin and Bakker are the only Circuit Court judges in Allegan County, southwest of Grand Rapids, but Bakker is the chief judge.

In December, Cronin said he planned to hire Chris Anderson as his law clerk, six months after Bakker fired him as a referee handling child support matters. Anderson was blamed for a backlog of cases and sleeping on the job, although he denied any office naps.

"Chief Judge Bakker was shocked" by the hiring, said her attorney, Craig Lubben.

Bakker quickly declared that she was forming a pool of law clerks for the court — and Anderson wouldn't be a member, Lubben said in a March 17 response at the Supreme Court.

Cronin claims Bakker is exceeding her authority by interfering with how a fellow judge chooses a clerk. He wants the Supreme Court to order her to stand down.

"If Judge Bakker wants to create either a secretarial or law clerk pool, she must obtain his consent. The case is that simple," said Cronin's attorney, Doug Van Essen.

Bakker told the Supreme Court that she is properly exercising her powers as chief judge.

There is no indication when the court will respond to the row.

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