“[A] Muslim Boy [Allegedly] Got a Stiffer Sentence Because of the Fact That [His] Offense [Was Committed] During … Ramadan[]”

In Pucci v. Nineteenth District Court (6th Cir. Dec. 16), plaintiff Julie Pucci was dismissed from her job as deputy court administrator. She alleges that she was dismissed partly in retaliation for her complaining about one judge’s “practice of interjecting his personal religious beliefs into judicial proceedings and the business of the court.” The judge was later appointed chief judge, and dismissed her. Another factor in the dismissal was allegedly Pucci’s living with a different judge, with whom the chief judge had a good deal of friction. And another factor, according to the documents I’ve seen, may have been the chief judge’s moral disapproval of Pucci’s living with the other judge without their being married.

In any case, here is the Sixth Circuit’s summary of the complaints about the judge (though note that I could see no indication of whether any government official had definitively decided whether the Ramadan incident had happened as alleged):

Pucci was not alone in complaining. Sharon Langen, the clerk of the court, also testified that she complained to the [State Court Administrative Officer], and another court employee filed a complaint with the state judicial tenure commission. Foran stated that, during his brief ten-month tenure as chief district judge, he received upwards of fifteen complaints from local attorneys “about Judge Somers interjecting his religious beliefs from the bench or imposing sentences based on religion.” [Citing the district court decision.] The record provides several examples:

Judge Somers used official court stationary on three separate occasions to send official correspondence affixing a quote from a biblical passage[;] … [according to then-Chief Judge Foran’s summary of a lawyer complaint,] a “Muslim boy got a stiffer sentence because of the fact that whatever offense he had, it happened during … Ramadan[]”; [o]thers complained that Judge Somers lectured defendants about marijuana, declaring that it was the devil’s weed or Satan’s surge, and that he would ask litigants in court if they go to church.

Id. In response, the regional court administrator instructed Somers to stop using court stationary to send religious messages.

What struck me as interesting is that the alleged Ramadan-related action — which would be clearly unconstitutional religious discrimination if it happened as described — does not seem to have been a reflection of any Islamist perspective of the judge’s part. Rather, the allegations describe what one might think of as ecumenical pro-religiosity, which may include specially punishing religious people for violating the dictates of their religions as well as, in other circumstances, specially favoring religious people.

It reminded me of McLemore v. McLemore, a 2000 Mississippi Supreme Court case in which the court ordered the parents to take a child to church, and responded (in my view incorrectly) to an Establishment Clause argument by stressing that “church” was used generically, and that any religious worship, Christian or not, would has sufficed. Likewise, Michigan trial courts often favor the more religious parent in child custody cases (see, e.g., the list of cases at PDF pp. 92-93 of my Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions article), though without any ostensible preference for this religion or that; still unconstitutional, I think, but reflective of a broad pro-religion mindset.

In any event, I thought I’d note this, though I should stress again that the Ramadan story is just a lawyer’s allegation; I know of no confirmation or rejection of the story. Thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer.

UPDATE: According to the Complaint, the biblical passage included on the judge’s official correspondence was “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).