Complaint against Jackson Judge Joseph Filip less serious than one Judge James Justin faces, chief judge says

By Danielle Salisbury
Jackson Citizen Patriot
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012, 8:00 AM

Judge James Justin

A Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission complaint filed against District Judge Joseph Filip is serious, but not of the same magnitude as one filed against Filip's colleague, Judge James Justin, Chief District Judge R. Darryl Mazur said.

Filip continues to do his work. His docket is under control, Mazur said. “He doesn’t have any issues with me at the moment.”

Justin, in contrast, has been suspended with pay since July 2010. The commission recommended the Michigan Supreme Court remove him from office for, among many alleged problems, dismissing tickets issued to himself and his wife. A Supreme Court decision is pending. Justices heard arguments in October.

Filip is accused of unfairly sentencing individuals convicted of their first drunken-driving offense, to unusually long jail sentences because of their status or perceived status as illegal immigrants.

In 2007 and 2011, county Chief Appellate Attorney Jerrold Schrotenboer defended Filip’s actions on appeal.

When it comes to sentencings, judges can consider a prior crime if the crime is proven by a preponderance of the evidence, Schrotenboer said. In the two known cases of Filip sentencing Mexican men to months in jail, both men admitted to being in the country illegally, Schrotenboer said. While being an alien is not itself a crime, “you can’t be in the country illegally without illegally entering the country,” he said.

He cited a 2009 Court of Appeals ruling, which upheld a sentencing decision in a home-invasion case made by Circuit Judge John McBain.
McBain sentenced Todocio Guerra, 45, to a longer minimum prison sentence than recommended by state guidelines, a point system.

“I doubt there’s very many Americans that are going across the Rio Grande and breaking into Mexican people’s homes,” the judge said in May 2007. Already previously deported, Guerra had returned to the United States and was accused of another burglary in Hillsdale County.

His “puts exactly the wrong face on Mexican immigration issues,” McBain said at the time.

The Supreme Court opted not to review the Court of Appeals ruling, but Justice Stephen Markman attached a concurring opinion to the high court’s decision. “It is hard to imagine a more compelling basis for an upward departure than that a defendant at the very time of his criminal conduct is in violation of other substantial criminal laws of this country,” he wrote.

Even in an opinion reversing one of Filip’s sentencing decisions, Schmucker said judges cannot close their eyes to defendants’ illegal immigration status. “However, just because a factor can be considered does not mean it may be used to always impose a jail sentence or in this particular case to impose the maximum jail sentence,” he wrote.

Complaint against Jackson Judge Joseph Filip less serious than one Judge James Justin faces, chief judge says |