Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I had the notion that there is some kind of a writ that would permit a stranger like me to butt into someone else’s law suit.
A little digging in the law library yielded the writ of Coram Nobis. It’s an ancient common law writ used to correct a fundamental error or miscarriage of justice.
I thought it fit the Riley case.
I prepared an application for a writ of Coram Nobis and filed it in the Supreme Court.
Then I called a news conference.
No doubt the reporters thought I was playing the part of Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, chasing the impossible dream.
One of them finally posed the question. What did I think the Court would do with my request? Did I think they would listen to me? What did I plan to do next?
I told them that I had asked for a chance to address the Court, and I expected to do so at the next scheduled session of the Court, which would be on March 8th.
And if the Court didn’t permit me to speak, what would I do then?
That question gave me a chance to utter a usable sound bite.
“My portrait is hanging in the courtroom,“ I said. “I’ll probably just sit under it until they call on me.”
Actually, it never came to that.
George Bushnell, representing the State Bar of Michigan, was scheduled to argue the first case on March 8, 1983. When Soapy gaveled the Court into session, George stood and asked the court to permit him to yield to me.
They did, and he did, and I had my say.
I began by recounting my exchange of letters with the court clerk, in which I was admonished to avoid personal contact with members of the Court.
I HAVE OBSERVED THOSE REGULATIONS, IF IT PLEASE THE COURT, AND THE JUSTICES HAVE OBSERVED THEM AS WELL.
WE HAVE EVEN AVOIDED THOSE SOCIAL CONTACTS WHICH OUR LONG FRIENDSHIPS – AND I COUNT EACH OF YOU AS MY FRIEND – WOULD OTHERWISE HAVE OCCASIONED, OUT OF CONCERN TO AVOID EVEN THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY.
I AM HERE THIS MORNING, IN KEEPING WITH THAT OBJECTIVE, TO PROVIDE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PROPER, PUBLIC DIALOG ON THE PROPOSITION WHICH I ADVANCED IN MY LETTER.
ARTICLE 6, SECTION 4 OF THE CONSTITUTION STATES: “THE SUPREME COURT SHALL NOT HAVE THE POWER TO REMOVE A JUDGE.”
IT IS MY PROPOSITION THAT SECTION 4 IS UNQUESTIONABLY CONTROLLING IN THIS CASE. THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT JUSTICE RILEY WAS A JUDGE. THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT THIS COURT PURPORTED TO REMOVE HER.
THE PLAIN AND UNAMBIGUOUS MEANING OF SECTION 4 IS SUPPORTED BY THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION’S ADDRESS TO THE PEOPLE, WHICH STATES THAT THE COURT “*** IS DENIED THE POWER TO REMOVE A JUDGE.”
Then I told the court that I could not imagine any theory or explanation which might weaken or carve out an exception to that plain and simple denial of authority, and concluded by saying,
BUT IF ARICLE 6, SECTION 4 IS TO BE EXPLAINED AWAY, IF THE COURT PLEASE, IT DESERVES A DECENT BURIAL, AND I RESPECTFULLY SUGGEST THAT IF THIS COURT IS GOING TO REMOVE A JUDGE CONTRARY TO THE APPARENT EXPRESS PROHIBITION OF THE CONSTITUTION, IT OWES THE PROFESSION AND THE PUBLIC THE DUTY TO STATE ITS REASONS IN WRITING AND ON THE RECORD.
Soapy stared at me in silence. Like a seven hundred pound gorilla.