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Michigan Supreme Court staffer resigns after criticism from fellow justice

The Michigan Supreme Court
Photo by larrysphatpage, Flickr
The Michigan Supreme Court

A clerk hired by new Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kyra Harris Bolden resigned Thursday after facing backlash for his past criminal record.

The clerk, Peter Martel, spent years working in legal advocacy. He was a mitigation specialist with the State Appellate Defender Office. He also attended law school at Wayne State and a PhD program at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

But before that, he served over a decade in prison for a robbery he committed at the age of 20 that involved shooting at law enforcement. He pleaded guilty for that crime in 1994.

It’s something he has discussed openly in the past, like when he joined an episode of the Michigan Department of Corrections’ "Field Days" podcast.

As first reported by the Detroit News, Bolden’s fellow justice, Richard Bernstein, took issue with the assault on law enforcement in Martel’s record.

Bernstein told the Michigan Public Radio Network Thursday that he interpreted Bolden’s pick as disrespectful to law enforcement.

“The issue here is the fact that he opened fire on law enforcement. I just think that there are certain things that you just can’t do. And that’s one of the key things: you cannot shoot at police officers. You just can’t do that,” he said.

Bernstein explained his concerns had less to do with the person selected for the job than the crime he committed, regardless of how long ago it happened.

For Bernstein, shooting at the police was a red-line crime that should disqualify anyone from employment with the Supreme Court because of how much of the court's work involves law enforcement.

“We can try to turn this into this whole story about redemption and this kind of thing. But at the end of the day what it really comes down to is, was this an appropriate fit for this specific job dealing with the issues that the court has to deal with, dealing with the people the court has to deal with?” Bernstein asked.

Bernstein’s comments do not represent the Court as a whole.

“The Court doesn’t comment on personnel matters or the decision-making process in that regard,” spokesperson John Nevin said in response to an interview request.

Bernstein mentioned blind people, like himself, often face crime victimization at higher rates than other communities. That adds a personal tie between himself and law enforcement.

Martel reportedly came to Bolden with high praise from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack.

McCormack did not return a call for comment Thursday, and attempts to reach Martel through the Supreme Court were unsuccessful.

Bernstein said he fully believes in second chances and wished Martel well in his future endeavors outside of the court.

“There’s a number of wonderful opportunities that this person can have that he can avail himself of and that he can ultimately do that will allow for the experience that he had to be used in a really positive, constructive way,” he said.

Before announcing Martel’s decision to step down from his clerkship, Bolden told the news outlet MIRS she stood by her decision to bring him aboard. She told the publication he’s “well qualified” and called his story an “inspiration.”

After Martel's resignation, Bolden released a statement.

“I have accepted Pete Martel’s resignation. He did not want to be a distraction or in any way divert the Court from its important work. I respect his decision and do not intend to comment further,” she said.

Bolden and Bernstein had campaigned together last year for the Supreme Court.

While Bernstein garnered the most votes, Bolden finished third. Governor Gretchen Whitmer named Bolden to the court after McCormack announced her retirement.

Bernstein, who initially said he hadn’t spoken to Bolden since the hiring, said he looks forward to repairing their relationship.

“This is something I was very, very concerned about. And now that this matter has been remedied and rectified, I look forward to moving forward with our new justice,” he said.

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.