Did Visiting Judge Pay Create a Conflict of Interest?

So check this out. Outgoing 86th District Court Judge Thomas Phillips supported sitting prosecutor Bob Cooney to be his successor. Now that Cooney won, he goes from being prosecutor one day to being judge the next day.

Enter the conflict of interest. It would be a conflict of interest for Cooney to judge cases that his office authorized. That makes sense, right? You can’t be both the prosecutor and the judge and rule on cases that you charged in the first place.

So who is going to be the judge then? When a judge has a conflict of interest, the judge does what’s called “conflicting out.” They basically say no, not me, I can’t do that case, have a conflict. Then the powers that be (“I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, sayin’ SCAO, come on let’s go…”) assign a visiting judge to hear the case. The assigned judges are often retired judges. Michigan won’t let them continue to be judges because of their age, but they let them be part-time judges, probably because who else would do it if they didn’t use retired judges?

Enter now retired Judge Thomas Phillips. Judge Phillips didn’t run again, maybe not because he didn’t want to, but because he was ineligible based on his age. Did you know that Michigan has age limits for judges? The U.S. Supreme Court not so much.

Anyways, Cooney’s departure from the prosecutor’s office creates likely months worths of conflicts of interest. Judge Phillips is right there waiting in the wings to step in. Visiting judges get paid something like $500/day. According to this source, the money to pay the visiting judge comes out of the local budget rather than from the state. And the salaried, sitting judge certainly isn’t taking a pay cut when they have a conflict.

Surely Judge Phillips knew all of this when he supported Cooney.

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