[Note: An earlier version of this article appeared on June 28, 2005. Our lawyer advised us that judges tend to stick together, so it wasn't prudent to criticize any judge while our hazardous waste lawsuit against the Toxic Towers polluters was active. We pulled the article. Since then we have had second thoughts. If any judge were to not treat us fairly because we had used our First Amendment right to criticize the misconduct of another judge, let that rest on his conscience. Nothing will ever end the "little emperor" syndrome afflicting so many judges without public exposure of their arrogance. The courts belong to US not the judges who serve in them. It's going to be an uphill battle to reclaim our turf, but it's got to start somewhere. So it starts here.]
Charles “The Fixer” McCallum is not the only prominent blight upon G.R. law. There is also Judge Robert Holmes Bell, the chief of the U.S. District Court of West Michigan. (Always all three names, lest anyone dare think "Judge Bob" will fly.) Bell is not a crook, but he has indulged in mendacity to conceal his prejudices that no judge should ever indulge. Bell has cultivated a ferocious bias against ordinary laymen in his court and has blithely disregarded the facts and the law to drive them out of his courtroom under severe sanctions. It appears that he has long forgotten that the laymen he holds in contempt are the public he has sworn to serve.
By way of illustrating this point, let's take a look at an incident from last June when the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati slapped down our very own Judge Bell. Bell had thrown the book at Daniel Broucek, who was found guilty of defrauding local investors out of $50 million in a Ponzi scheme. (Nothing like the grandaddy of all Ponzi schemes here in River City -- or should I say Pyramid City? -- but a pretty respectable haul nonetheless.) Anyway, the Sixth Circuit told Bell to try again, because he violated federal sentencing guidelines with the excessive prison sentence he gave Broucek.
I suppose it's good that the Sixth Circuit has gotten all riled up over Bell giving a major-league con artist 8 years in the pokey instead of the maximum of 7 1/2 years per the guidelines. (That's right, a whole six months difference.) But whither the Sixth Circuit in the several cases over the past few years in which the dyspeptic Bell hammered plaintiffs with unprecedented penalties and sanctions for the temerity of bringing cases before his court as pro se laymen –- i.e., without representation by an attorney? The crickets have chirped as the judges on the Cincinnati bench waste energy feuding over the politicized administration of big-time cases while neglecting the appeals of the unrepresented and unconnected citizens they think they can sweep under the rug.
(Yes, folks, I do understand that the Sixth Circuit's bench is undermanned because of the recent Democratic filibustering in the Senate. All that means is that it’s even more outrageous that the judges down there waste any time with infighting.)
And so a sarcastic ol' bastard like Bell carries on lambasting and defaming laymen who peeve him, unchecked by anyone. I'd say his ill-temper shows that he's too long in the tooth as a judge, but I've been assured by every lawyer who knows him well that Bell has wielded his acid pen from the very beginning a quarter-century ago on the Ingham County bench. These lawyers tell me he gotten away with his often nasty disposition because he's clever.
I can vouch for that. Bell used his clout as chief judge to take over a case I and two co-plaintiffs had filed against the Toxic Towers polluters. He then solicited briefs from the defendants to make completely irrelevant defamatory statements about my character. (Well, OK, maybe not every statement. Not even my mother will deny the one about me being a loudmouth and a pain in the ass.) More seriously, Bell uncritically accepted the accusations from the defendants' lawyers that we had made false statements of fact about the defendants' illegal dumping of hazardous waste. On that basis, he cooked up a nonsensical legal argument to hit me and my co-plaintiffs with nearly $200,000 in sanctions.
When we presented Bell with the irrefutable evidence of our allegations against the defendants, did the judge do the right thing and admit error? No. He dropped the original rationale for the sanctions and cooked up an entirely new one. He had prejudged us and our case, and no fact, no law was going to shake him loose of his bias. Bell was clever enough to know if he were vociferous enough in his denunciation -- damn the facts! -- no higher authority would double-check him. (More on this gripe in an upcoming article examining the little lords who rule our courts.)
Fortunately, to Bell's shame, my co-plaintiffs and I have since been vindicated as truth-tellers in another court. Meanwhile, let's hope the Sixth Circuit gets its act together soon and does more than nitpick at Judge Robert "Hang 'Em High" Bell's excesses. Either that or maybe Bell will take advantage of his recent rise to senior judge status that allows him to draw full salary without doing much work as a judge. That’s a boondoggle not unlike double-dipping, to be sure, but better that than he continues to wield an increasingly malign influence on the local federal bench.