When things don’t go your way, it is easy to blame the decision on a biased judge. A bias judge is a judge who has a prejudice in favor or against one thing, person or group compared with another. It the context of a divorce or custody case emotions are often running high and an allegation of a biased judge is common. After all, how could the judge rule against your logical position unless he/she was a biased judge?
The recent case of Magryta v. Margyta, Mich. App. No. 336433, involved a biased judge. However, the biased judge was did not have a prejudice over a party, rather a prejudice over incarceration.
In the Magryta case, the parties divorced in December 2016 and the mother was awarded physical custody of the children and the mother and father awarded joint legal custody. The father was granted specific parenting time.
The parties reached an agreement that minor children would be assessed for learning disabilities in the school district and an evaluation for an individualized education program (IEP). The mother decided to home school the children and neither the learning disability assessment nor the IEP’s were ever completed. The father filed a motion to hold the mother in contempt for her unilateral decision to home school and failing to obtain the IEP. At the hearing, the trial court ordered the minor children attend public school and one of the children be evaluated for bipolar disorder. Shortly thereafter, the children refused to visit with the father.
The father filed another motion to hold the mother in contempt. At the hearing, the mother testified that the children refused to visit with the father. Notwithstanding, the mother offered the father supervised parenting time. At the hearing the biased judge noted that it did not order supervised parenting time and entered an order requiring the mother to comply with father’s parenting time and enroll the children in public school. The mother subsequently refused to comply with the trial court order.
The father filed another motion to hold the mother in contempt. At the hearing, the trial court judge ordered a CPS investigation and awarded the father temporary custody of the children. With the temporary custody order in hand, the father went to retrieve the children with the police standing by and the mother refused to release the children to father. Remarkably, the police refused to get further involved stating that the matter was a “civil matter” and not criminal in nature.
The father returned to court asking the trial court to hold the mother in criminal contempt. The trial court judge began reveal himself as a biased judge, refusing to hold the mother in criminal contempt. The trial court judge revealing that: “it had no interest in punishing people or locking them up. . .” The biased judge continued by recommending to the mother’s lawyer to advise her of the seriousness of where the case was at with the criminal contempt issue. The mother once again refused to comply with the court’s order, explaining that the children did not want to live with the father. The mother further refused to enroll the children in public school.
The father asked the biased judge to incarcerate the mother for failing to comply with his orders and the biased judge refused stating:
“I’m not going to do it. I’m rescinding the temporary [custody] order, I think you probably have to file a claim for parental alienation, which we’ll run through, and will take its course. I’m abating any child support in the interim. You certainly shouldn’t be paying for in—for child support in the interim. I can’t even get the mother to bring the children in to interview me and I think you should appeal my decision to the Court of Appeals and I would appreciate their guidance. But at this stage, it is clear to me, anything I do is not helpful to this situation.”
The Power of Contempt
On Appeal, the appellate court noted that:
“The power to hold a party, attorney, or other person in contempt is the ultimate sanction the trial court has within its arsenal, allowing it to punish past transgressions, compel future adherence to the rules of engagement, i.e., the court rules and court orders, or compensate the complainant.”, citing: In re Contempt of Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 243 Mich App 697, 708; 624 NW2d 443 (2000).
Biased Judge? – The Michigan Court of Appeals assigned the case to a different judge.
The Michigan Court of Appeals determined that the mother’s contempt in the Magryta case is both clear and unequivocal and removed the biased judge from the case. The Court of Appeals noting: “. . . would have difficulty in putting aside previously expressed views or findings. . . given the presiding judge expressly stated that it would not incarcerate a parent – even when that parent is unequivocally stating she will not comply with the court’s order – we have no confidence [in the presiding judge] . . . for a finding of contempt and the imposition of contempt sanctions . . .”
The uniqueness of this case of the biased judge is that the biased judge did not have personal animosity over a party, rather the notion of putting a party in jail for failing to follow a court order.
In many cases, having an understanding of the judge is as important as an understanding of the law.
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By: Daniel Findling