Michigan Supreme Court Justices Embattled Over Hiring of Clerk With Criminal History

Two Democratic Supreme Court Justices in Michigan have been embattled over the hiring of a clerk with a criminal history. An apology has been issued, but the criticism keeps coming.

Newly appointed Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kyra Harris Bolden — a Democrat, and Michigan’s first Black female justice — hired as her law clerk a former convict who spent 14 years in prison.

Pete Martel
  • Pete Martel was convicted of armed robbery after robbing a convenience store in the Flint area, followed by a brief shoot out with police. The crimes were committed in 1994 when he was a teen, and Martel was released in 2008.
  • Martel then went on to earn a law degree, found a job with the State Appellate Defender Office and enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Michigan.

Fellow Justice Richard Bernstein — also a Democrat, who had campaigned with Bolden — came forward and criticized the hire by Bolden, saying he was “disgusted” by the hiring of Martel, and that he “doesn’t share the same values” as Bolden. Bernstein insisted someone with Martel’s record should not work at the Michigan Supreme Court.

“Ultimately, when we talk about redemption and when we talk about second chances we all believe in that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you get to have whatever job you want,” Bernstein said.

“I think that once you decide that you’re going to shoot at police, I think that no matter what you do in terms of, like, your redemptions or those kinds of things, there’s lots of other opportunities,” he explained.

Hours later, Martel had resigned. Martel did not want to be a distraction to the important work of the court, according to Justice Bolden.

Bernstein issued an apology of sorts, and suggested he would like to rebuild his relationship with Bolden.

Bernstein’s comments drew a strong rebuke last week from some criminal defense attorneys and advocates for previously incarcerated citizens.

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack also defended her successor’s hiring of Martel, whom McCormack taught at the University of Michigan in 2017-18.

McCormack said she wished she had hired Martel.

“He’s been open about his past and his regrets about it, and how he’s eager to be an example for others, to show them that you don’t have to be defined by your past,” McCormack told The News last week. “I honestly can’t think of anything in a justice system that we value more — we should support people who succeed at redemption.”

Beyond the story:

Detroit News, MLive, Axios