Wayne Co. judge censured for holding hearing without defendant’s attorney

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A Wayne County judge has been censured by a state commission after they say she violated a defendant’s rights by holding a hearing without the man’s attorney present.

According to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, Judge Kathy Wachtman, who serves as a justice for the Huron Town Court, denied a request by the defense to adjourn a hearing in April 2017. The defense attorney asked for the hearing to be delayed as he was scheduled to be in another court at the same time.

The commission says, however, Judge Wachtman denied the request, because the prosecution had already subpoenaed witnesses, and held the hearing for the suspect, Tysean Harris, who was facing felony drug charges, without a lawyer.

After receiving the denial, the defense attorney objected, citing case law that would allow the hearing to be delayed, and asked a written objection be placed on the record. The commission says Judge Wachtman didn’t add the letter to the record or inform Harris that his attorney wouldn’t be present.

The commission says Judge Wachtman also didn’t tell Harris he had the right to cross-examine the witnesses and testify on his own behalf. However, when Harris later asked if he could question the witnesses, the judge allowed it.

Harris eventually pled guilty in the case in June 2017 and was sentenced to time served.

In a statement, Commission on Judicial Conduct Administrator Robert Tembeckjian wrote, “It is fundamental to the role of a judge to ensure that defendants are not only apprised of their rights but also afforded a meaningful opportunity to exercise those rights.  Derelictions of such essential duties, in even a single case, are serious violations of the rule requiring judges to be faithful to and professionally competent in the law.  To her credit, Judge Wachtman accepted responsibility and is expected to honor the rules scrupulously going forward.”

Wachtman has served as Huron Town Justice since 2013. Her current term ends in 2021.

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