By DANIEL HERATY
DEARBORN – Jury selection and opening statements were heard Wednesday as a civil trial against 19th District Court Judge Mark Somers got underway.
The trial is expected to last until next week.
Somers is facing a lawsuit by former court administrator Julie Pucci, who alleges he fired her in 2007 without just cause.
Pucci, who worked in the 19th District Court in various capacities since 1991, claims that she was fired after reporting Somers to the regional court administrator and the state court administrative office due to what she claims were excessive uses of power, religious preaching while on the bench and his disapproval of her relationship with Judge William Hultgren, who also served in the court.
The attorneys for Pucci, Detroit-based Joel Sklar and Sanford Plotkin, are asking for compensatory and punitive damages, telling the jury they were going to be asked to award Pucci a significant amount of money.
Sklar told the jury of three men and seven women that after she reported Somers, Pucci became the “enemy” and that Somers began to look for ways to remove her.
“(Somers) used his power without restraint,” Sklar said. “He engaged in conduct that was inappropriate because it came at the expense of someone else’s life. (Pucci’s firing) was a calculated effort to wrest control in order to do his own bidding.”
Sklar argued that there were three main points of the case against Somers. He said that Pucci was denied due process and was fired “on a whim,” and that she had the right to report a judge for improper behavior — namely, Somers’ use of religious language — and that Pucci was discriminated against in the workplace due to what Sklar claimed was Somers’ fear of strong women in the workplace.
The attornies for Somers, Michael King Jr. and Christina Grossi from the Michigan Attorney General’s office in Lansing, claimed that Pucci’s firing was not the result of malicious intent on Somers’ part, but rather that it came as a result of necessary reorganization.
Somers has said he eliminated the position that Pucci held during her tenure as a means of budget control. Somers was implementing a plan that was initially enacted by former 19th District Court Chief Judge Leo Foran by eliminating the deputy court administrator position. King also argued that Somers notified Pucci of the reorganization and that he also talked to her about it.
King also claimed that Somers did not fire Pucci due to her relationship with Hultgren, but rather, he did not support a promotion for Pucci on the grounds that her relationship with Hultgren would create a conflict. King said that Foran, a friend of Hutgren who served as the chief judge at the court from March 2005 to January 2006, would be committing nepotism by promoting Pucci to court administrator.
(Daniel Heraty can be reached at [email protected])