In an unprecedented retelling of modern judicial history, a retired chief justice gives us a glimpse inside the way things have worked at the Michigan Supreme Court.The book reveals much that has hitherto been hidden from public knowledge. But even at 770 pages, the justice says the tome is “only a little more than the tip of the iceberg.”
The story is told through court documents, internal communications, and detailed interviews. The book also compiles media accounts and other interviews that put the history in context. Through it all is the narrative of the justice who—at great personal cost—led the struggle to let the people of Michigan know what had been going on.
In her nearly 16 years on the Michigan Supreme Court, Elizabeth Ann Weaver has seen just how justice can move from mostly serving the public to the ways it can be put to use for political, personal, and ideological gain.
She maintains that purpose in her most recent revelations: the book is written to share with citizens the need for reform in the way the state selects its justices and to illustrate the need to eliminate unnecessary secrecy and to encourage openness and transparency in the transaction of the people’s judicial business. (There is an appendix in the book that lists recommended reforms.)
Weaver began her judicial career as a part-time probate/juvenile trial judge in sparsely populated Leelanau County. By dint of her ability, determination, and her character she was elected six more times including twice more at the trial court, twice at the Court of Appeals (a district representing 66 counties of 3.1 million people), and twice at the Supreme Court (all 83 of the state’s counties of then more than 10 million people).
As the court was taken over by gubernatorial appointees, people ill-suited and not always qualified for the work, things grew stranger and stranger. Weaver relates her experience of the explosive fellow justice who would repeatedly browbeat staff (who also carried a firearm into the building), the justice who would go after lawyers who disagreed with him, justices who violated fund-raising practices, justices who would claim to be conservatives but who would behave as activists and change the law from the bench. And every time that Weaver would step up to warn them or to stop them, they would attack her, refusing to publish her dissents, even promoting or creating a “gag order” that they thought would keep her from speaking out.
In the end, it was open warfare, with the Engler Four creating bogus charges and sending her to the Judicial Tenure Commission, openly expressing their rage at her behavior because she would not sit down, shut up, and—by their lights—behave. Weaver stood in defense of the Constitution, the laws of the state, and common sense. But she felt some responsibility: Weaver had openly helped some of them come to the court, and had been their friend.
The book is composed of 28 chapters and other material that relate Weaver’s career The book tells the story of the composition of the court and how Governor John Engler managed to take it over, the treatment of the internal public (employees), the treatment of lower-court judges (including attempts to bully them out of chief judgeships and even off the bench) for personal and political reasons, and the treatment of the state’s laws (changing them entirely or modifying them at will) and the entrenched lack of regard for the state’s Constitution.
Story after story comes from Justice Weaver’s recollections and deep files (she kept most everything), and co-author David Schock’s extensive research. Weaver is opening the door to what she saw, heard, and experienced.
Along the way we talk with other judges, lawyers, and employees who felt the hand of this court, arguably the worst in the nation. And the story arc is that the Michigan Supreme Court became and remains tyrannous, unnecessarily secretive, and judicially deceitful.
The book is published by Peninsula Press and is available at Amazon (both as a print version and for Kindle) and also formatted for Nook and iBook.
Requiescat in pacem
Elizabeth A. Weaver’s life was a brilliant demonstration of her faith. She knew that all matters were, at root, spiritual. She lived by the precept of “Do Right and Fear Not.”
I found her intelligent, perceptive, trustworthy, and absolutely truthful, even when it didn’t show her in the best light. She didn’t make excuses for herself or for others. And, nothing less than the whole truth would do.
When she chastened her colleagues and former colleagues at the court there was never any personal animus. She loved them and wanted them simply to amend their behavior to comport with the law and ethics.
It has been an honor to work with her on the book; it now serves as a legacy. The writing and publication of this personal history was the last duty she said she owed the people of Michigan. She meant it to serve as a warning that absolute power and unnecessary secrecy would result in abuses, no matter who was at the helm. She sought openness, transparency, and accountability.
As a friend she was loyal, forgiving, and generous. She had a wonderful sense of humor and laughed much and long. Most important, she was a faithful follower of her Master.
David B. Schock, Ph.D.
Coauthor with Chief Justice Elizabeth A. Weaver Judicial Deceit: Tyranny and Unnecessary Secrecy at the Michigan Supreme Court