Activists: Bernstein should ‘repent’ for slamming fellow justice for hiring a returning citizen

By: - January 12, 2023 2:06 pm

Ronnie Waters and others called on Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein “make amends” for his recent comments regarding his colleague Justice Kyra Harris Bolden’s hiring of a returning citizen. | Ken Coleman

A group of activists representing returning citizens and other community organizations on Thursday held a news conference in Southfield where they called for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein to continue to “make amends” for his recent comments regarding his colleague, Justice Kyra Harris Bolden, hiring a returning citizen. 

“[Bernstein] and his family are not welcomed in our community unless we get what we are asking for,” said Tia Marie Sanders, referring to the Sam Bernstein Law Firm based in Farmington Hills. “Our children are watching to see what we are going to do.” 

Bolden had hired a clerk, Peter Martel, who had served prison time for a 1994 robbery in which he fired shots at police. 

The group called for Bernstein to participate in a public advisory group dedicated to advocacy for returning citizens for “one year to educate himself – and staff – to the trials, tribulations and restoration processes returning citizens must endure.” It also called for Bernstein to invest at least $50,000 in “organizations over a year to create pathways for returning citizens and help spread awareness of proposed legislation and resources available for returning citizens.” And the group asked for Bernstein to raise $1 million for the Bolden campaign. 

“We stand with and fully support individuals who are formerly incarcerated. We believe in redemption and in time served. Our elected officials, especially those on the Michigan Supreme Court, should keep their word and ensure returning citizens have every resource to rebuild and restore their lives, including employment with the High Court,” the group said through a statement. 

Bernstein and Bolden were nominated by the Michigan Democratic Party in 2022 for the Supreme Court. Bernstein, an incumbent, was reelected. Bolden was unsuccessful but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed her to the state high court in December to fill an open slot. Bernstein and Bolden campaigned together during the election campaign season. 

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein and state Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield) speak at a rally with former President Barack Obama in Detroit on Oct. 29, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Bernstein on Monday apologized to Bolden for comments he made regarding her hiring of Martel.

In comments made last week to the Detroit News, Bernstein said he was “completely disgusted,” adding that “there are certain jobs you should never be allowed to have after you shoot at a police officer, and one of them is clerking for the highest court in the state. I’m no longer talking to her. We don’t share the same values.”

Martel, 48, earned a law degree following his parole in 2008, worked with the State Appellate Defender Office and was enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Michigan. Following Bernstein’s comments, Martel resigned. 

“Today, I apologized to my colleague Justice Kyra Harris Bolden in-person at the Hall of Justice and she has accepted my apology,” Bernstein said in a statement released on Monday. “I regret overstepping Justice Bolden’s hiring process and should not have disturbed her ability to lead her Chambers.”

Darryl Woods, a returning citizen and a leading activist, called on Bernstein to hire someone who has served in captivity previously. 

“We are asking you, Justice Bernstein, to repent,” said Woods. 

Meanwhile, Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony, in a separate press release, agreed with the group in Southfield. 

“What we need are more folks who have been redeemed to play a significant role as clerks, office staff, paralegals, and even police officers within our judicial system,” said Anthony. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.