The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission has issued a formal complaint against Washtenaw County Judge J. Cedric Simpson for making false claims regarding the relationship he had with his volunteer intern, Crystal Vargas, and for interfering with her drunk driving investigation and prosecution.
In September 2014, Vargas ran a red light and hit a tow truck. Immediately following the accident, the first call Vargas made was to Judge Simpson. The judge appeared on the scene minutes later and allegedly interrupted the field sobriety test the police officer was administering on Vargas. The officer claimed that he allowed the contact because of the judge’s position on the bench. Vargas’s blood alcohol content (BAC) upon arrest was .13%.
Upon being released from jail, Vargas paid a visit to Judge Simpson at home. He later contacted Pittsfield Township City Attorney for the police report and related legal documents. The attorney agreed to “sit” on the matter until Vargas retained an attorney. After a month passed by, because no formal charges had been brought forth against Vargas, the Chief of Police filed a formal complaint denouncing the judge’s interference and demanding a valid warrant for arrest.
Simpson also allegedly contacted former Pittsfield Township city attorney Victor Lillich on multiple occasions in an attempt to intercede on Vargas’ behalf. During a Sept. 17, 2013, conversation, it’s alleged that Simpson convinced Lillich to “sit” on the matter until Vargas retained an attorney. Simpson said he requested the police report from Lillich, but solely to determine whether Vargas should still be working in his office. Simpson denies he ever tried to convince Lillich to “sit” on the case.
Upon being investigated by the Commission, Judge Simpson claimed that he did not have any type of personal relationship with the intern nor spoke with Vargas at the scene of the crime. The Commission was able to obtain documents detailing over 10,000 calls and text messages between the two parties. On the day of the accident, the parties exchanged phone calls on 7 occasions.
Judges are prohibited from using their authority to intercede on anyone’s behalf involved in a legal matter. In this case, Vargas was still ultimately convicted of drunk driving.
Although, the judge’s attorney stated that he expected the judge to be fully exonerated of any wrongdoing, the judge has been found to have engaged in improper conduct. Depending on the final ruling of the Judicial Tenure Commission, the judge may be reprimanded, suspended, or expelled from the bench. The next hearing will be held June 8, 2015. I will provide a follow-up article detailing the results of that hearing.