Action taken against judge due to texting scandal

ANN ARBOR (AP) — A judge in Ann Arbor’s 15th District Court won’t be allowed to hear any more cases because of text messages he sent to a local attorney, according to officials.

All of Judge Christopher Easthope’s cases, including both mental health and veterans treatment courts, will now be handled by other judges, Chief Judge Elizabeth Pollard Hines said in a recent statement.  The decision was prompted by “disturbing” text messages that caused the community to question the court’s integrity, she said.

“The public can be assured that the business of the 15th District Court will go on, administering justice with integrity, and treating each and every member of the public with dignity and respect,” Hines said in the statement.

Easthope will continue drawing his $138,000 annual salary until his resignation takes effect Dec. 31. Only the governor, Legislature or Michigan Supreme Court have the power to remove him, state Supreme Court spokesman John Nevin said.

The texts were released after a Michigan Freedom of information Act request by The Ann Arbor News.

The messages between Easthope and Nader Nassif reveal that the two were drinking buddies who had smoked marijuana together on at least on occasion. They also suggest that Easthope helped Nassif’s law firm get a $203,000 contract with the city of Ann Arbor.

Other messages between Easthope and Nassif have been cited by two legal experts as violating a code that prohibits a judge from talking to an attorney about ongoing cases without the other attorney present.

Easthope resigned, citing personal and family reasons, before the text messages were released by the newspaper. He has since apologized about the messages.

“The comments in the texts are deeply offensive to the persons involved and unworthy of anyone, but especially a person in my position,” Easthope said in a statement.

“They were never meant to be public. I apologize from the bottom of my heart to those involved, the entire community and my family for betraying the trust you put in me to uphold the dignity of this office.”

Despite the scandal, Easthope said late last week that he was determined to stay on the bench until the end of the year to ease in the transition.

He first took the bench in January 2009 and was re-elected to his seat last November.