Michigan lawmaker to file complaint against Hamtramck judge who berated elderly man

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Speaking before the Hamtramck City Council, Michigan Rep. Abraham Aiyash was interrupted by cheers from the audience.

Aiyash echoed the sentiments of residents in Hamtramck and beyond at the council meeting Jan. 11, a day after a district court judge chastised an elderly Hamtramck man for yard maintenance.

“You cannot tell somebody that they should be ashamed of themselves and deserve jail time because the facade of their home is decrepit when the very character of the person saying that is just as bad,” Aiyash, D-Hamtramck. “When our elected officials act with disrespect, regardless of what the situation might be, when our elected officials are insulting members of the community that they were elected to serve, we have a responsibility to step up and call it out.”

Abraham Aiyash
Abraham Aiyash

During the hearing, a clip of which has been widely shared, a 72-year-old man explained to 31st District Court Judge Alexis Krot that he has been unable to maintain grass upkeep and that he’s sick with cancer.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Krot told Burhan Chowdhury in the Zoom hearing. “If I could give you jail time on this, I would.”

The clip was flooded with comments outraged at Krot’s treatment of Chowdhury, some calling it cruel, uncalled for and others rallying her removal. A change.org petition calling for her removal has garnered over 200,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Krot was appointed to the bench in 2016 by former Gov. Rick Snyder then elected by Hamtramck voters in 2018. She did not return repeated attempts by the Free Press for comment.

“When our elected officials act with disrespect — regardless of what the situation might be — when our elected officials are insulting members of the community that they were elected to serve, we have a responsibility to step up and call it out,” Aiyash said before the council.

Chowdhury’s son, Shibbir, 33, interfered during the hearing to clarify for the judge that his father is very sick, to which Krot said, “Have you seen that photo?”

Multiple attempts to reach Shibbir Chowdhury were unsuccessful. Chowdhury was issued a $100 fine for the unkempt grass, even though Shibbir told The Washington Post that the grass has since been cleared up.

The clip of Monday’s hearing was shocking to see for Rebeka Islam, executive director of civic engagement group APIA Vote-MI, who has lived in Hamtramck for two decades.

“You're not surprised but you're also hurt by it — it was just a mix of feelings. It's like I know I'm not surprised that this is happening but yet again I was surprised to actually see it,” Islam said.

As a fellow Bengali, Islam could relate to the feelings of intimidation that she felt the Chowdhurys were experiencing — the intimidation which comes with the overwhelming stress of navigating the justice system as a nonnative English speaker.

“When I was a child I would go to interpret for my parents and I would get so intimidated by the judge that I wouldn't even be able to interpret or translate for my parents,” Islam said. “I knew this was happening in the community, but we've never seen it on a public platform like this. It was just very disturbing and frustrating to see — to say the least.”

But Chowdhury’s hearing was far from shocking for courtroom regulars.

“I'm going to chalk it up to perhaps she was having a bad day and overstepped,” said Deborah Gordon, a civil rights lawyer based in Bloomfield Hills, adding that she wasn’t particularly taken aback by the clip. “It does seem needless but this type of thing does happen. Frustration bubbles over. And somebody could be having a bad day.”

Blight violation citations are often levied for the sake of getting residents to abide by city ordinances regulating aesthetics, rather than seeking to punish violators, and can typically be waived if proof of compliance is provided. However, these tickets can become a source of contempt between neighbors.

“There are a lot of cities in metro Detroit — certainly not all — that are overzealous with their use of code violations,” said Wade Fink, a criminal defense attorney in southeast Michigan. “It creates a dynamic where it makes community policing harder because it creates frustration between your community and the community you're trying to serve.”

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At the council meeting, Aiyash said he will be working with the Chowdhury family to file a formal complaint with the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, a body which investigates complaints of misconduct against judges for the sake of ensuring public confidence in the judicial process.

“I want Mr. Chowdhury to know, if he’s watching today, that we will stand with him and his family to ensure that his justice is not denied and that his dignity and respect is restored as a fellow neighbor,” Aiyash said, followed by cheers from the audience.

Contact Miriam Marini: mmarini@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Rep. Aiyash to file complaint against Hamtramck judge who berated man

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