By Ed White, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — A former court employee who said she was illegally fired will have to pursue a Detroit-area judge for a $734,000 jury verdict — not taxpayers.
The Michigan Supreme Court said Friday it will let an appeals court decision stand. That means Dearborn Judge Mark Somers is responsible for paying the award to Julie Pucci, as well as more than $400,000 in legal fees.
Somers said he eliminated Pucci's job during a 2006 staff reorganization at 19th District Court. But Pucci sued, alleging she was fired after she complained that the judge was sending religious messages on stationery and proselytizing from the bench.
Before trial, Somers signed an order effectively making the city of Dearborn, which pays for District Court operations, liable for employment decisions. But the jury verdict against him was in his "personal capacity," not in his official role as a judge.
The appeals court said it was a critical distinction that frees Dearborn from liability in the Pucci case.
The state Supreme Court heard arguments in November. In a brief order Friday, the court said it was "no longer persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed."
"We view this as a huge victory for Dearborn taxpayers," said David O'Brien, an attorney for 19th District Court, who had urged the state's highest court to affirm the appeals court decision.
Messages seeking comment were left for Somers and a lawyer for Pucci. Somers, who has been a judge since 2003, has said that some of his salary has been garnished by Pucci during the dispute over who should pay.
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