Suspended Judge Beverley Nettles-Nickerson lied, fabricated evidence, coerced subordinates and made false charges of racism, a judge found Wednesday in a scathing report to the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission.
Retired Saginaw County Circuit Judge Leopold Borrello said Nettles-Nickerson, an Ingham County circuit judge, engaged in a wide range of misconduct on and off the bench. He presided in an eight-week hearing that ended in November.
Nettles-Nickerson, Ingham County’s first black female judge, only a few years ago was viewed broadly as a pioneer and role model.
Her career has been in a downward spiral since she made allegations of racism against Circuit Court Chief Judge William Collette two years ago. A Michigan Supreme Court-ordered investigation exonerated Collette and led to the probe of Nettles-Nickerson.
Now, she is trying to save her career, and has filed for re-election. That challenge looks more difficult today, after Borrello’s 35-page report to the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission upheld charges brought by the JTC on seven of the 10 counts.
Phil Thomas, Nettles-Nickerson’s lawyer, said he was pleased Borrello dismissed three of the charges. And he said some of the wording of the report is beneficial to Nettles-Nickerson as she continues her defense before the commission, and possibly, the Supreme Court.
While Nettles-Nickerson was cleared on three charges, Borrello’s report came down hard on her on most of the others.
He said she was excessively absent or late—often showing up only on Wednesdays, the day set aside for motions.
He said she used her judicial position to try to bully a gas station owner in Portland in an argument over whether she was charged correctly.
In the most serious charge, she was accused of committing perjury by filing for divorce in Kent County even though she and her husband were both living in Ingham County. The JTC portrayed the action as one of several aimed at keeping the divorce proceeding private.
Nettles-Nickerson claimed her husband was living in Grand Rapids at the time. Borrello didn’t buy that, citing the testimony of her husband, a babysitter, two judges and court officials.
He said she not only committed perjury in the divorce document, but that she also perjured herself in testimony during the Judicial Tenure Commission.
Borrello concluded that Nettles-Nickerson fabricated evidence in submitting a bogus e-mail to the commission regarding her vacation schedule.
Borrello concluded that Nettles-Nickerson coerced court staff to move cases prematurely toward dismissal for lack of progress.
And he said that she allowed a social relationship with a court employee to influence her in granting probation to a man who had a relationship with the employee.
On that charge, Borrello also criticized the probation department for withholding information about probation violations from Nettles-Nickerson.
The race factor
Borrello also found that Nettles-Nickerson used race and allegations of racism inappropriately in several instances when her work ethic was called into question. According to the testimony of her law clerk, she once said “I will not hesitate to play the race card.”
“A charge of racism is a bell that cannot be unrung,” Borrello wrote. “Respondent’s (Nettles-Nickerson’s) wanton use of the word has damaged individuals and the judiciary as a whole.”