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Complaint: Detroit judge sexually taunted prosecutors: 'You want foreplay?'

A Wayne County judge with a controversial past is under investigation again, this time for allegedly making raunchy comments to female lawyers in the courtroom, sizing them up with his eyes and joking about male genitalia in chambers.

The judge got so graphic, a formal complaint alleges, that one prosecutor was left "frozen."

These are among a fresh batch of allegations facing Wayne County Circuit Judge Bruce Morrow, who according to the Judicial Tenure Commission crossed many lines during a 2019 homicide trial: He talked about the "climax of sex" with one prosecutor, used an obscenity  to describe sex, and mocked the defendant over the size of his penis in chambers, according to a new JTC complaint.

It was during a trial break, the complaint states, that the judge stunned one assistant prosecutor when he walked over to her and started asking her sexual questions that had nothing to do with the case, including: "Would you want foreplay before or after sex?"

These allegations are spelled out in a formal complaint filed this week by the Judicial Tenure Commission, which receives about 600 complaints about judges every year, many of them about their rulings. Morrow is not new to this judicial disciplinary panel.

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In 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court suspended Morrow without pay for 60 days for “continually doing what he wanted regardless of the law.” The JTC had filed a complaint alleging that Morrow had committed judicial misconduct in 10 cases, including many in which he was allegedly overly friendly with defendants. The misconduct claims include: 

Morrow had argued that his conduct should be immune from action by Judicial Tenure Commission because he acted “in good faith and with due diligence.”

The high court disagreed.

In the fall of 2019, Morrow also raised eyebrows when he posted a sign outside his courtroom mandating that every defendant who has a case before him "must show proof of voter registration for his/her case to be heard."

In the recent case, here is what the complaint says  happened in his courtroom that triggered an investigation into his behavior:

On June 11, 2019, during a break in a homicide trial, an assistant prosecutor asked the judge for feedback on her direct examination of the medical examiner.

The judge told her he would come down from the bench to talk to her personally "because what he was going to say to her would make her 'blush.' "

Morrow came down from the bench, sat at the prosecutor's table next to assistant prosecutor, "placed his head very close to her head" and started asking her questions.

"So when a man and a woman are close, they start by holding hands, rubbing elbows, kissing, foreplay, then that leads to sex?” 

The judge continued: “You want the foreplay before the sexual intercourse. That’s what we call cuddling. No, you start with holding hands.”

The judge, the complaint said, was making an analogy to the prosecutor to the effect that "the climax of sex is akin to getting the medical examiner to state the cause and manner of death after getting the details of his examination of the body.” 

The judge continued: “You start with all the information from the report, all the testimony crescendos to the cause and manner of death,  which is the sex of the testimony.” 

The judge suggested to the prosecutor that “you want to tease the jury with the details of the examination ... lead them to the climax of the manner and cause of death.”  

This discussion caused the prosecutor "to feel 'frozen' and afraid to move," the complaint states.

Morrow could not be reached for comment.

Behind closed chambers

Count two in the judicial complaint alleges misbehavior by the judge during jury deliberations.

This allegedly went on in his chambers.

On June 11, 2019, while the jury deliberated, Morrow invited both defense lawyers and prosecutors to join him in chambers.

There, he chastised another female prosecutor for presenting evidence to the jury that the murder suspect's DNA was found on the victim's vaginal swab.

"All you did was show they f-----!" the judge allegedly told the prosecutor.

Then he "made fun" of the defendant's testimony that he and the victim did not have sex in a normal manner because she was pregnant and he did not want to hurt the baby.

While in chambers, the judge also criticized some of the prosecutor's questioning techniques in picking a jury, allegedly saying: “If I want to have sex with a woman on the first date, how would I figure that out? I wouldn’t ask her if she wants family or children or what she does, I would ask her: ‘Have you had sex on a first date before?’ 'Would you sleep with me on a first date?'” 

The judge asked the prosecutor what her definition is of “non-traditional” sex.

"Not intercourse," she answered.

The judge told her that view was shaped by her own bias and that most people did not define “non-traditional” sex the way she does.

 All of this courtroom behavior, the judicial commission alleges, violated the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to "personally observe high standards of conduct ... treat every person with courtesy and respect ... (and) be dignified and courteous to  lawyers."

Physical appearances scrutinized

Morrow is also accused of behaving unethically by questioning female lawyers who appeared before him about their physical appearance.

In the 2019 homicide case, for example, after the jury was excused for the day the judge approached the prosecutor's table and asked one of the assistant prosecutors how tall she was and how much she weighed.

He also asked the other assistant prosecutor whether she weighed 115 pounds. When she responded with respect to her weight, the judge said, "Well, I haven't assessed your muscle mass yet.'"

During this conversation with the prosecutors, the judge was "overtly eyeing both of their bodies."

This conduct violated multiple ethics rules, including that judges are prohibited from treating a person discourteously because of their gender and that they must treat every person "with courtesy and respect."

Morrow, the JTC argues, did not do that with these two female prosecutors.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com.

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