Niles judge reprimanded

Published 3:40 pm Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Michigan Supreme Court has reprimanded a Niles judge for his actions that led to a woman being jailed for 10 days, including over Christmas, for cursing in the Niles courthouse building in 2012.

Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley was publicly censured in a decision issued by the state Judicial Tenure Commission Wednesday.

Dennis Wiley

Dennis Wiley

In a released statement, Wiley admitted his error and said he had been appropriately sanctioned.

“I apologize to the citizens of Berrien County and State of Michigan, as well as my respected colleagues on the bench, for my lapse of appropriate judicial conduct,” he said. “I will endeavor to comport my behavior to the high standards which are demanded of me.”

Paul Fischer, executive director of the Judicial Tenure Committee, said Wiley would not be suspended. His punishment, Fischer said, is the reprimand itself.

According to the court’s decision, Wiley committed misconduct when he held LaRue Ford in contempt of court after he overheard two court employees saying that LaRue had used foul language in the courthouse, but outside the courtroom, on Dec. 4, 2012. Ford was mad that she had to pay a fee to release a hold on her license, believing that court staff had previously told her that all fees had been paid.

According to the decision, Wiley arraigned Ford for contempt of court outside of his presence, based only on the conversation he overheard and a subsequent conversation with court staff about Ford’s behavior.

Wiley set Ford’s bond at 10 percent of $5,000 and Ford spent a night in jail before posting bond the next day.

When Ford appeared for the contempt hearing on Dec. 18, Wiley raised her bond to the full $5,000 and Ford spent the next 10 days in jail, including Christmas.

The American Civil Liberties Union took up her case and Ford was released on Dec. 28.

The contempt charge was eventually dismissed in Berrien County court on Jan. 11.