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Justice Bernstein apologizes after criticizing Justice Bolden's choice of clerk

Michigan Supreme Court
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A Michigan Supreme Court justice apologized Monday for his public criticism of a hiring decision by one of his colleagues on the court.

Justice Richard Bernstein condemned Justice Kyra Harris Bolden last week for hiring Peter Martel as a clerk. Martel pleaded guilty in 1994 to an armed robbery that involved shooting at a police officer. He served more than a decade in prison for the crime.

After his release from prison in 2008, Martel earned his law degree from Wayne State University, joined a PhD program in Public Policy and Sociology at the University of Michigan, and became an advocate for improving prison conditions.

Bernstein told the Michigan Public Radio Network last week that, although he believes in second chances generally, firing at an officer should disqualify Martel from working for the court.

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Michigan Radio
Michigan Supreme Court Justices Kyra Harris Bolden, left, and Richard Bernstein take the oath of office together January 1, 2023.

“I just think that there are certain things that you just can’t do. And that’s one of the key things: you cannot shoot at police officers. You just can’t do that,” Bernstein said.

The Detroit News quoted Bernstein saying he was “no longer talking to” Bolden — with whom he campaigned ahead of last November’s election — because of her decision to hire Martel.

Martel resigned from his clerkship Friday. Bolden said in a statement that he “did not want to be a distraction or in any way divert the Court from its important work.”

In a written statement Monday evening, Bernstein apologized for “overstepping Justice Bolden’s hiring process."

"I would also like to apologize to Mr. Peter Martel,” Bernstein said. “Mr. Martel is not an elected official and my actions invited people into his life in a way that he had not signed up for and he deserved more consideration.”

Bernstein said he is “committed to working with Justice Bolden in the coming years to advance our many shared values, including immediately working to expand opportunities in the legal field for those who have repaid their debts to society.”

Brett joined Michigan Radio in December 2021 as an editor.
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