ROSEVILLE — Judge Catherine Steenland has been charged with two misdemeanors stemming from her alleged involvement in a car collision that took place in Roseville Sept. 25, 2017.
On Aug. 23, Steenland, a judge in the 39th District Court in Roseville whose current term lasts until 2022, was charged by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy with one count each of failure to stop at the scene of a personal injury accident, which is a one-year misdemeanor; and failure to report an accident, which is a 90-day misdemeanor.
The case was referred to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office by the Office of the Attorney General after Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith recused his office from the case on Jan. 19.
“The alleged actions of this judge are disturbing,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy stated in a press release. “A judge is the ultimate example of one who should be held to the highest standards of the law.”
At 8:30 p.m. Sept. 25, 2017, police officers were dispatched to a hit-and-run incident on Gratiot Avenue near McKinnon Street in Roseville. The officers spoke to a 31-year-old Roseville man, who said that a woman driving a red sedan hit his car and drove away. He provided officers with the car’s license plate number, a description of the incident and a description of the woman. Michigan State Police also spoke to a second witness to the incident and would later identify Steenland as the suspect in the case.
Steenland was arraigned Aug. 27 in 72nd District Court in Marine City in front of Judge Michael Hulewicz, who was chosen by blind draw by the State Court Administrative Office. Her next court date is scheduled for Sept. 28.
Steenland has not been removed from the bench pending these allegations, but her docket has been limited as a result.
“What we do is work closely with the chief judge, Joseph Boedeker, and monitor the situation,” said John Nevin, the communications director for the Michigan Supreme Court. “He has taken action and limited her docket. She is not hearing any cases similar or related to her cases. He also is keeping an eye on her and her behavior.”
Nevin added that it is too early to say what the possible ramifications would be if Steenland were to be found guilty.
“Neither our office nor the (Michigan) Supreme Court can take action without a recommendation from the Judicial Tenure Commission,” said Nevin. “The JTC might recommend a suspension, a removal or other disciplinary action. The judge in the case has a chance to respond to those recommendations, there would be a hearing and the Supreme Court would have an opportunity to make a decision about what to do moving forward. … (Steenland) would get a chance to speak on her behalf and make a reaction to these determinations.”
Nevin said he wants the judicial process to act appropriately, giving Steenland the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty, but he also stated that any allegation made against a sitting judge must be taken with the utmost seriousness.
“There have been cases where judges were removed from office for various problems and breaking the law,” said Nevin. “The Supreme Court takes these cases very seriously. We want to ensure all judges are acting according to the law and acting properly, so we want to make sure once the JTC makes a recommendation, the court acts quickly.”
Nevin said the last comparable case involving a Michigan judge came in 2003.
“There was a similar example in 2003, and the final appeal in 2005,” he said. “It involved Judge James Noecker in Sturgis, Michigan, where he oversaw the 45th Circuit Court. He was drunk and crashed into a party store and was removed from office, both for breaking the law and then lying about it. His lying about it was as important to the decision as the crime itself.”
Steenland’s attorney, Stephen Rabaut, did not respond for comment by press time.