Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein takes leave for mental health treatment

By: - April 19, 2023 7:53 am

Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein speaks at a rally with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other Michigan Democrats in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Nov. 4, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein announced in a statement released Tuesday that he would miss an upcoming session of the court in order to seek mental health care out of state.

“I have chosen to participate in short-term mental health treatment outside the state of Michigan while working remotely on active cases,” read the statement. “I will not be joining the rest of the Court for its Oral Argument special session, scheduled for April 26, 2023, in Cheboygan.”

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Bernstein, who has served on the Michigan Supreme Court since 2014, is the first and only blind justice to ever hold that position. Bernstein was reelected to another eight-year term last November and is among the 4-3 majority of Democratic-nominated justices on the court.

In his statement, Bernstein said while he would be physically absent, he planned to remain engaged with the court’s caseload.

“The trust and confidence that the people of the state of Michigan place in me to serve in this role means so much to me,” he said. “At the same time, I appreciate the opportunity to temporarily step out of the courtroom to focus on my mental health. During this time, I will continue working remotely on all active cases. I encourage everyone who struggles to seek the help they need.”

Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement, who was nominated by the GOP, also issued a statement supporting Bernstein’s decision.

“The Court asks the people of Michigan to join them in supporting Justice Bernstein and respecting his privacy, as he prioritizes his well-being,” she stated. “We look forward to him rejoining the Court in person in the coming weeks.”

No further explanation was provided, including whether or not Bernstein’s treatment will be inpatient or outpatient. He also did not specify when he will be able to return in-person to hear cases.

Chief Justice Elizabeth Clement | Susan J. Demas

When contacted by the Michigan Advance, Michigan Supreme Court spokesman John Nevin said he had nothing to add to the statements released by Bernstein and Clement.

Bernstein has worked remotely before, spending long periods during the initial stages of the pandemic overseas, first in Dubai and then in Israel.

He made headlines in January when he said he was “completely disgusted” by fellow Justice Kyra Harris Bolden’s hiring of a clerk who had served prison time for a 1994 robbery in which he fired shots at police. While the clerk eventually resigned, Bernstein later issued an apology for his reaction, saying he regretted “overstepping Justice Bolden’s hiring process and should not have disturbed her ability to lead her Chambers.”

Bernstein’s statement that he was seeking mental health care follows February’s announcement by U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.) that he had checked into a hospital to treat his clinical depression. He was released March 31 after his doctors said his depression had gone into remission, and that he had “expressed a firm commitment to treatment over the long term.”


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.