Too Little Too Late? Is Bernstein’s Apology to Bolden Enough Amid Hiring Controversy?

On Monday, January 9, a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court apologized to another justice for sharply criticizing her decision to hire an ex-convict as a law clerk, WXYZ reported.

Also in a statement sent to the Michigan Chronicle, Justice Richard Bernstein said he personally apologized to Justice Kyra Harris Bolden in the Hall of Justice and that she accepted it.

“I regret overstepping Justice Bolden’s hiring process and should not have disturbed her ability to lead her Chambers,” Bernstein said in the statement.

Bolden had hired 48-year-old Pete Martel, who served 14 years in prison after stealing a business in the Flint region and shooting at police officers. After being freed in 2008, he made changes to his life and graduated from Wayne State University’s law school, WXYZ reported.

Marjon Parham, public relations manager for Michigan Liberation, a nonprofit organization working to end the criminalization of Black families and communities of color in Michigan, told the Michigan Chronicle in a statement that Martel’s work would have made an impact in that role.

“Having a person like Pete would be a great asset to this position and the community,” Parham said. “He brings the knowledge, skill setss and he represents both sides of the fence.”

Bernstein also expressed regret to Martel in the statement.

“Mr. Martel is not an elected official and my actions invited people into his life in a way that he had not signed up for and he deserved more consideration,” Bernstein said.

“I am committed to working with Justice Bolden in the coming years to advance our many shared values, including immediately working to expand opportunities in the legal field for those who have repaid their debts to society,” the statement added.

Following Bernstein’s criticism, Bolden claimed last week that she had accepted Martel’s resignation, according to the article.

“He did not want to be a distraction or in any way divert the court from its important work,” Bolden said in the article.

Bolden declined to comment any further on the matter.

The Michigan Chronicle obtained a recent press release by the Black Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, an organization dedicated to equality and justice, which stated that Bernstein is “not the final authority” on second chances.

The organization noted that Bernstein displayed “bias” in the matter and created a “hostile” work environment. However. However. However. However, they recognize his apology.

“As an organization, we are concerned by the fact that Justice Bernstein chose to make public comments about his ‘disgust’ about recently appointed Justice Kyra Harris Bolden’s hiring practices for her judicial staff,” the organization noted in the release. “It is highly doubtful that Justice Bernstein would have made public comments about the hiring practices of one of his Caucasian colleagues on the bench.”

BWLAM added that his comments, despite the apology, still were highly inappropriate given his highly-public facing position.

“Justice Bernstein’s comfortability in how he publicly speaks negatively about Justice Bolden is off-putting, inappropriate and is of grave concern to this organization and the African American community as a whole,” the organization stated. 

Read the full story here.

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