Warren District Judge John
Chmura may have thought news coverage of the ethically questionable $1,500
birthday gift he received last November for a Las Vegas vacation — first
reported by The Macomb Daily — was over once he relented and donated the money
to the nonprofit Macomb County Bar Association Foundation.
But a local TV station last
week picked up a new wrinkle (though months old) in the story. The Warren City
Council, by a 6-1 vote, had quietly picked up the $8,100 tab for Chmura’s legal
bills when he thought he may face a reprimand from the state’s watchdog group
known as the Judicial Tenure Commission.
Chmura reportedly hired the
same high-profile law firm chosen by former Michigan Supreme Court Justice
Diane Hathaway and Wayne County Judge Wade McCree when they got into legal trouble.
The firm apparently put three lawyers on the Chmura case—each at $225 an hour.
When the TV station caught up
with Chmura outside his home, a confrontational interview ensued that put the
judge in a bad light. You can watch it here.
Instead of answering the
reporter’s questions, Chmura kept repeating, “Who decides which stories you
should run?” As if a public official in this predicament, using tax dollars in
this way, is not worthy of a news story.
The Nov. 29 birthday party, attended by about 200 people
at the American Polish Century Club one month before Chmura’s actual 50th
birthday, resulted from the sale of $30 tickets by the 37th District
Court staff. The tickets resembled typical campaign fundraising tickets and
indicated that the price would pay for food, musical entertainment and a
“present” for the judge.
Attendees included attorneys who appear before the judge.
In Michigan, the judicial rules
of ethics limit the gifts that judges can accept, even if they’re not from
lawyers who argue in their court. Once the $1,500 became public knowledge,
pressure mounted on Chmura to return it.
At the time, Chmura said that the vacation was planned
for himself, his wife, his secretary and a friend, and his court officer.
When he eventually opted to give away the money, he told The Macomb
Daily: “I still think there was nothing improper about it.”