Dearborn resident and 21-year city employee Julie Pucci feels victorious, but not vindicated.
A jury decided in Pucci's favor in her discrimination case against Chief Justice Mark Somers, but she told Patch in an exclusive interview that her fight is far from over.
Late last month, a jury ruled that Pucci was owed $732,000 in damages based on findings that all but one of her three claims of discriminatory behavior from the judge were substantiated.
Now Pucci is joining residents who are calling , and she is planning to make official requests for investigation to the Judicial Tenure Commission.
“Somebody has to do something about this,” Dearborn resident Bobbie Justice said about Somers after a recent City Council meeting. “He’s not in touch with reality. The courthouse is his playground.”
Pucci told Patch that she believes Dearborn "will continue to suffer" as long as Somers is in office.
Hers was the second of three lawsuits filed by employees of the who believe they were wrongfully terminated or demoted by Somers.
Somers has decried all the charges, maintaining he's done nothing wrong and that he's only sorry that he lost.
"I acted with integrity, not self-interest," he told the Detroit Free Press earlier this month.
And in an interview with Patch, Somers added that he wasn't worried about any official investigations he might be facing from the Judicial Tenure Commission.
"It's any citizen's right to request an investigation," Somers said. "I don't know what their particular issue is, but ... I don't think I've done anything that constitutes misconduct."
Dearborn City Council, for its part, is telling residents that the matter is out of their control. The city is the funding unit for the court, but Somers is an elected state employee–so he can't be punished by the city.
Yet, Pucci points out that the costs of her case will mean a mounting bill to Dearborn taxpayers, totalling about $1.5 million in awards and court fees at this point. It's a matter she believes the city and its residents should care strongly about.
"I will feel complete vindication when (Somers) is no longer a judge," Pucci said.
In 2006, Somers told Pucci, a deputy court administrator, that she would be let go because her position was going to be eliminated—even though she had been in ongoing talks with the previous chief judge about a promotion to the court administrator position.
The reason, according to Somers, was two-fold: her position was cut to save the court money, and she was not promoted based on the court’s anti-nepotism laws. Somers believed Pucci was in violation “in spirit” because she had a live-in relationship with her fiancée, 19th District Court Judge William Hultgren.
After attempting to negotiate a severance package—which Somers denied—Pucci filed a lawsuit against him and the court in January 2007. The suit claimed:
- Somers’ elimination of her position was based on a complaint she had made to the State Court Administrator’s office that he was proselytizing from the bench and using religious verses on courtroom letterhead.
- She was not given due process in her termination from the court, nor was there “just cause” for letting her go.
- She was discriminated against based on her gender, because she was not given a severance package similar to two male employees let go before her.
After several years in court, on June 30, a jury in federal court agreed with two of her claims—but not the gender discrimination—and awarded Pucci $432,361 in financial damages, as well as $100,000 each for retaliation, emotional and punitive damages.
Somers filed a motion on July 8 that the judgment be thrown out, while Pucci’s attorneys motioned for payment of court costs and attorney’s fees, which totaled more than $747,000–plus prejudgment and post-judgment interest.
The case goes to a hearing on Sept. 20.
Regarding her initial legal win, Pucci said it was about principle, not money.
“This victory isn’t only for me,” she said. “It’s for every lawyer or litigant who ever dealt with Mark Somers.”
Tensions at Home, in the Courthouse
Pucci said the case has been stressful, both on her personal life and her reputation.
“The career is one thing; the reputation is another,” she said. “You can’t place a dollar amount on that.”
She added that the case has “basically put my life on hold,” including her wedding to Hultgren. “Our wedding is supposed to be a happy day,” Pucci said. “We don’t want this hanging over our heads.”
Hultgren and Somers have continued to work side by side–even throughout Pucci's trial, during which Hultgren testified on her behalf.
The tension between the two judges dates back years, according to testimony given during Pucci's trial by former Chief Judge Leo K. Foran, who served from March 2005 to January 2006 and was replaced by Somers.
According to a decision penned by District Judge David Lawson, “Judge Foran testified that the tension between (Hultgren and Somers) was obvious from the first time he sat in a room with both of them.”
Pucci says the tension in the courthouse has been palpable since the trial began: “You can cut it with a knife.”
'The Trial is not Complete'
Pucci's is the second of three lawsuits filed against Somers based on wrongful termination.
Simone Calvas, who was let go from her job as a probation officer, was awarded $463,820 in her suit against Somers in June. Sharon Langen was demoted from court administrator to court clerk by Somers, but remained at the court even after filing her suit. She likely will see her federal case go to jury trial within a year.
As far as Pucci's lawsuit is concerned, Somers maintains that it's not over until it's over.
"The trial is not complete," he said. "I'm not in a position I want to be in, but the legal process is not concluded."
Regardless of where her lawsuit goes next, Pucci said that her attorney intends to file a request for investigation with the Judicial Tenure Commission about Judge Somers—with aims to getting him taken off the bench.
“The city will continue to suffer until Somers is out of office," she said.
Click here for more on this case, including a look at who is financially responsible for paying Pucci's settlement.