Judge Brenda Sanders suffers serious mental illness, making her unfit to sit on Detroit's 36th District Court, a fact-finder ruled. Her attorney says she should keep her seat and seek treatment.
"Sadly, the evidence clearly proves that (Sanders) is psychotic and clearly seriously mentally ill," retired Wayne County Michael Sapala said in his ruling issued earlier this week. Sapala sat as the fact-finder during a three-day hearing in December on the troubled judge.
"Her mental disorders render her unfit to sit as a judge. Her illness prevents her from being able to properly perform judicial duties."
The nine-member judicial tenure commission will hear final arguments Feb. 9 and issue their findings in March. The Michigan Supreme Court will make the final decision.
Sanders, who has been on the 36th District Court bench since 2008, came under scrutiny in December 2013 when she wrote U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade a rambling letter, insisting that her fellow judges were being murdered for bringing attention to wrongdoing at the court.
"I believe they were murdered because they spoke out against some of the wrongs that were committed at the court," she wrote in her letter, now part of the public record. "A newspaper tried to name me as a suspect in one of the murders. I was at work on the day of the crime."
She later identified the newspaper as the Detroit Free Press. The newspaper has never written about Sanders as a suspect in a murder.
She also alleged that the Michigan Supreme Court was targeting her and had evicted her from her home.
A psychiatrist who examined the letter determined that "her insight and judgment are too impaired because of her delusions to render opinions not only in court, but elsewhere, but particularly in court as a judge." The tenure commission sought to have her examined by the psychiatrist but she failed to show up for three appointments.
Sapala also ruled that Sanders violated court rules when she took a lengthy medical leave in September 2013 saying she was "100 percent" disabled because of knee problems that required surgery. That surgery never took place. She did not return to the bench, and she was suspended without pay in July 2014.
Paul Fischer, the commission's executive director who presented the evidence against Sanders, called it "a very sad case."
It's unclear what impact, if any, Sander's illness might have on cases she handled before she left the bench. Fischer said the discipline was based on the letter to McQuade and other matters unrelated to her court docket. Litigants who might want to challenge her rulings would need to follow the appellate process and take their cases to higher courts.
Sanders is living with family in South Carolina and did not attend the hearing in December. She could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Cyril Hall, said Sanders was "amenable" to treatment for her mental illness and should not be removed from the bench.
"There are a number of judges out there taking medication," Hall said. "This is a person we're just going to throw away because of mental illness. That's just totally wrong."
Should she be removed, Gov. Rick Snyder would appoint a replacement.
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Detroit judge deemed too mentally ill to sit on bench