Judge in cursing case refuses to disqualify selfPublished 3:30pm Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley refused a motion to disqualify himself from hearing the case of a 49-year-old woman who spent 11 days in jail for cursing.
The motion was filed Tuesday before Wiley in Berrien County South Court in Niles by Miriam Auckerman, an ACLU attorney representing LaRue Ford, who was charged with contempt after she was overheard cursing in the Niles clerk’s office Dec. 4.
Auckerman’s argument for disqualification centered on two things: the witnesses are Wiley’s subordinates and Wiley has an interest in the outcome of the case.
“There is a potential for bias,” Auckerman told the court.
Wiley disagreed, saying while he and the witnesses work in the same building, the witnesses aren’t his subordinates.
“I don’t hire them or have any authority to fire these employees… I don’t supervise them or manage their daily activities,” he said. “I don’t have any personal interest in what they have to say.
“I am not disqualified from hearing this case.”
According to state law, the matter will now go before another Berrien County judge, who will determine if Wiley should be disqualified.
Ford, now out on bond and living with relatives in Chicago, said the drawn-out case is taking its toll.
“It’s tiring, I’m just tired,” she said Tuesday outside the courtroom.
John Targowski, another lawyer representing Ford, said he wasn’t surprised Wiley refused to disqualify himself.
“I told Ms. Ford it’s good,” he said. “We are nervous, but we’re certainly optimistic.”
According to Ford’s lawyers, the situation began when Ford went to the south county courthouse in Niles to fix an apparent unpaid traffic violation. At some point, Ford became frustrated and cursed as she left the clerk’s office. When Ford returned to pay the fee, she was arrested and Wiley charged her with contempt.
The charging document filed by a courthouse employee reads Ford “used profanity in the clerk’s office on Dec. 4.”
Ford’s lawyers have said Ford’s actions that day didn’t meet the test for the charge of contempt of court.
Ford’s bond was originally set at 10 percent of $5,000 on Dec. 4. She paid the bond and was released, but couldn’t pay the bond when Wiley raised it to the full $5,000 during another court hearing Dec. 18.
She spent the next 11 days in jail — including over Christmas — until her attorneys filed an emergency appeal to lower the bond. Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Al Butzbaugh lowered the bond and Ford was released Dec. 28.