A Michigan judge who berated an elderly cancer patient for his untidy yard has apologized for her behavior, and said she “made a mistake, acted intemperately” and is “very embarrassed.”
Burhan Chowdhury, 72, was given a citation in May of 2021 for not keeping up with the yard work at his Hamtramck home, his son Shibbir told CNN.
During an online Zoom court appearance about the yard on January 10, Burhan appeared with Shibbir to help bridge the language gap, since the older man doesn’t speak a great deal of English, Shibbir said.
Burhan has lymphoma, a cancer that has attacked his lymph nodes and left his body weak, Shibbir said, but instead of a slap on the wrist from District Judge Alexis G. Krot, Burhan was berated.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Krot said during the court appearance regarding the yard work, as seen in an online recording of the Zoom appearance. “Have you seen that photo? That is shameful.”
“If I could give you jail time on this, I would,” Krot went on to say. “That is totally inappropriate.”
Video of the Zoom meeting circulated online and many on social media expressed outrage over Krot’s comments.
“I apologize to the person who appeared before me and to our entire community for having failed to meet the high standards we expect of our judicial officers and that I expect of myself,” Krot said in a letter posted on the court’s website Tuesday.
“When someone appears before me and has made a mistake, I expect them to own up to it,” she wrote. “I expect nothing less of myself.”
Krot said she self-reported her behavior to the Judicial Tenure Commission.
“I had no legal duty to report myself to the Commission, but I did so because, like apologizing to the community, it was the right thing to do. I will continue to hold myself to the standards I set for others.”
Typically, before Burhan’s cancer diagnosis three years ago, Shibbir said he, his mother and Burhan would all work on the yard together. While he was in Bangladesh, his mother fell down the stairs and hurt her back, leaving no one to do any yard work while he was away.
As soon as he returned, Shibbir said he cleaned up the yard himself.
“My father was trying to explain that he was sick and he had cancer, but (he was) feeling shame,” Shibbir said. “We didn’t expect she could tell us like this. Maybe she could have told us more respectfully or maybe, like, normally how people speak,” he said referring to the judge.
Shibbir thinks a neighbor filed a complaint with the city, but he’s not sure. If that’s the case, he says he wishes the neighbor would have just talked to him about the yard themselves before escalating the situation.
The community is watching
The incident caught the attention of Michigan State Rep. Abraham Aiyash and prompted him to speak out about it at a city council meeting last Tuesday.
Watching video of the Zoom hearing gave Aiyash flashbacks of a time when he went to the courtroom with his parents who spoke English as a second language and were mistreated, he told CNN on Friday.
“Remorse is seen through deed and that’s what we want to see,” he said. “Will there be a change in action? Will there be a change in conduct moving forward?”
Aiyash said he is in touch with the Chowdhury family and preparing a formal complaint to the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, an independent state agency responsible for investigating complaints of judicial misconduct and judicial incapacity, and for recommending discipline of judicial officers by the Michigan Supreme Court.
“We would expect any of our elected officials in Hamtramck to treat people with dignity and respect and in the event that they’re not, we will hold them accountable,” Aiyash said. “What you saw over the last week and a half that surfaced from, particularly, Hamtramck community members is a reaction to pain.
“These are people who have felt and seen and experienced mistreatment and are sort of voicing their outrage from their own personal experience,” he continued. “So many of us feel sympathy for Mr. Chowdhury, but for a lot of people, this just brings back flashbacks to their own experience and this moment opened up the eyes of a lot of folks who said enough is enough.”
About a week after the city council meeting, Amer Ghalib, the Mayor of Hamtramck also spoke out about the incident during a weekly address to the community saying it was “inhumane to stay silent in this case.”
“My personal opinion is the treatment that Mr. Chowdhury received was inappropriate, unacceptable and unbecoming of the court,” he said. “Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. In this country no one should be afraid of elected officials.”