In My Opinion: Guest Column by Leslie McGraw, Friends & Family of Judge J. Cedric Simpson
The Honorable J Cedric Simpson, 14-A District Court Judge covering dockets in Pittsfield Township and Saline, Michigan, filed a response with the Judicial Tenure Commission on Wednesday, November 26 after a formal complaint was filed against him two weeks prior.
The complaint contained a host of allegations around the arrest of his intern, Crystal Marie Vargas. Vargas had been a student of Judge Simpson’s at Cooley Law School and an aspiring judge. Vargas was selected by Judge Simpson and his staff to be a part of the internship program based on her academics, strong writing skills, career goals, and background. Vargas became the only assistant in a high-profile case.
On the morning of Sunday, September 8, 2013, Vargas called Judge Simpson at 4:20 a.m. after she collided with a tow truck while turning at a blinking red light. Judge Simpson raced over to the scene to discover Vargas had been drinking while driving. After she failed sobriety tests, Officer Cole placed her under arrest. “Because you’re being cooperative, we will do what we can”, said Cole to Vargas, “We’ll see if we can work on somebody to get your car so we don’t have to impound it.” After Cole placed Vargas in the police car, he walked over to Judge Simpson and asked a hesitant Simpson to take the car keys because she had told him she didn’t have anyone else to come get her and it would help her to avoid impound fees.
After Judge Simpson left the scene, a decision to tow the car was made. Vargas was told that it would be a “crash tow” and not impounded. When Ms. Vargas arrived at the tow company, an impound fee had been applied. After several credit card attempts, Judge Simpson paid the tow balance which was reimbursed to him the next day she came to the court.
The Monday after the accident, Judge Simpson reported the incident to Cooley Law School and reached out the City Attorney’s office to receive a police report and clarify the correct blood alcohol level so he could make a decision about the fate of her internship.
Judge Simpson went on about his duties in good faith until he received an anonymous complaint from the Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) in 2014, which later evolved into an official complaint on November 12, 2014. In one of the first times in the JTC’s 46 year history, the allegations were served with no accuser. According to a May 2014 Edition of The Ann Magazine, Paul Fischer, the commission’s executive director, said the commission discloses the identity of complainants to judges, and that circumstances that would warrant anonymity are very rare. “In fact,” Fischer said, “I can’t even think of one.”
Judge Simpson, in his response to the Judicial Tenure Commission stated:
Judge Simpson had assigned Ms. Vargas the task of reviewing an extremely large volume of text message records that were then the subject of litigation in Nassif. Ms. Vargas’ review of these records and her need to report to Judge Simpson what she was findings she was going along led to an extremely large number of text messages and telephone calls during that period of time, including at times other than normal business hours. Other communication between Ms. Vargas and Judge Simpson during this period involved one or more other matters Judge Simpson had assigned her to work on. Neither the number nor the nature of the communications was in any way improper, nor were the communications in any way an indication of an inappropriate relationship.
This is not the first ghost complaint against Judge Simpson. In fact, in 2010 Judge Kirk Tabbey took Judge Simpson off of the criminal docket for ghost complaints. Or at least that’s what his cryptic message to the press seemed to imply. MLive reported that then-Chief Judge Tabbey said “I have received no official written complaints about Judge Simpson, and any other issues are personnel matters, so I would have no comment.” It would seem that the Former Chief Judge Simpson who worked with the Dispute Resolution Center to alleviate 78% of small claims docket, worked with youth in the Community in conjunction with CAN, and coordinated with the county and Department of Human Services to reduce homelessness and landlord/tenant issues in Washtenaw County deserved more than such a mediocre response. Apparently, the ghost grumblings subsided this year as Judge Simpson as Chief Judge Richard Conlin reassigned the Criminal Docket and Collections from Judge Tabbey to Judge Simpson this October.
Since this ghost accuser has had so many questions and allegations, the friends and family of Judge Simpson have some questions as well.
1. The allegations in the complaint against Judge Simpson were released via media before 7 a.m. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. That is less than 24 hours after the complaint was served to Judge Simpson. Do “you” always post allegations such as these so quickly and with such bias? It is hard to remember the last time we have seen a positive story about a black man posted with such urgency in the local press.
2. At the same commission meeting on Monday, November 10, 2014, it was recommended that Judge Tabbey be suspended for 90 days without pay after he pled guilty to drinking and driving. Why did it take a commenter on the article about Judge Simpson to prompt local news reporters to publish a story about Judge Tabbey? When were “you” planning to publish that story?
3. Judge Simpson has mentored almost 50 young people of different genders and ethnicities through the internship program he began in connection with Cooley Law School. Why did “you” presume that Judge Simpson had to have been engaged in a dishonorable relationship with Ms. Vargas?
4. Judge Simpson’s award-winning contributions in the community span decades, mostly for his compassion and integrity. Here are a few just in case “you” didn’t know:
- 2004 Father Bernard J. O’Conner Award for Compassionate Justice – Dispute Resolution Center
- 2007 Animal Humanitarian Award – Huron Valley Humane Society
- 2011 Integrity in the Community Honoree – The Thomas M. Cooley Law School
- 2013 Drill Sergeant, Tough Love Award – Thomas M. Cooley Ann Arbor Student Bar Association
- 2013 Professional Integrity and Community Outreach Award – Washtenaw Association for Justice
5. Many of the allegations are addressed in the police video footage. How did they make it to the complaint? Did “you” see the entire video? If “you” saw the entire video, then why did “you” decide to splice the video on television news in such a way that implied interference? Why did “you” show the tow truck driver speaking about Judge Simpson taking the keys for Ms. Vargas without the scene where the police officer asked Judge Simpson to take the keys?
There are so many questions and concerns that our community should be asking about our only remaining black judge in Washtenaw County. Sometimes, we are uncertain exactly whom these questions should be directed. That does not excuse, however, our failure to continue to ask the questions. Just as we have banded together in communities across these united states to ask tough questions to authorities and make the statement #BlackLivesMatter in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and Charleston, we also must band together to ask the tough questions in Washtenaw County. Wayne Moore, Civil Rights activist and member of the historic Wilmington Ten, posed the question: where have all the leaders gone?The leaders have not gone anywhere. They are present, in the positions we elected them to serve in, just trying to breathe.
To learn how you may join the community of support for the Honorable Judge J. Cedric Simpson, please email the Friends and Family of Judge Simpson at JudgeSimpsonInfo@gmail.com or join us on Google + or Facebook.
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