Judge Alexis G. Krot is a district judge for the 31st District Court in Hamtramck, Michigan, appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the bench in August 2016. In a case that has now gone viral, Judge Krot shamed a 72-year-old cancer patient for failing to tend his lawn despite being too physically weak to do so.
Here’s a purely verbal description of the case from The Washington Post. The verbal description is bad enough.
In the three years since he was diagnosed with cancer, Burhan Chowdhury has had a difficult time maintaining his yard and keeping his property in suburban Detroit in good shape. At a recent Michigan state court appearance over Zoom, the 72-year-old man struggled to breathe as he explained to a judge that he was “very weak” and unable to clean up the grass that had overtaken the property over the summer.
But 31st District Judge Alexis G. Krot had no sympathy for Chowdhury. Instead, she shamed the cancer patient for the neighborhood blight in Hamtramck, Mich. — and told him the punishment she wished she could have given him.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Krot said on Monday. “If I could give you jail time on this, I would.”
After issuing Chowdhury a $100 fine for failing to keep up with home maintenance, Krot called the amount of grass on his walkways “totally inappropriate.” When Chowdhury reiterated that he was “very sick,” Krot said his inability to keep up with his property was inexcusable.
But you don’t really get a sense of Judge Krot’s behavior until you see it on screen.
Seeing is believing.
I don’t know how much discretion Judge Krot had to excuse Chowdhury altogether for the offense. If he’d been brought before me, and I’d had the discretion, I’d have let him off scot free. But even if she lacked discretion, the fact remains that her outburst here is malicious and gratuitously cruel. I propose, by the way, to take Judge Krot’s desire to give Chowdhury jail time at face value. A person ready to give jail time to a cancer patient for failing to maintain his lawn ought to be prepared to take what she dishes out. Verdict: cancellation.
Many people have agreed with that verdict, and have assembled a “woke” online “mob” to denounce her on Change.org, urging her removal from the bench. Though I thoroughly applaud the spirit of this move, I’m not sympathetic to details of the proposal (and confess agnosticism about the accusation of bigotry leveled against her). For one thing, it seems to me that removal from the bench is overkill for a single offense (if a single offense is involved). It also seems highly unlikely to happen. It would have been more sensible to demand either a reprimand or a censure of Judge Krot’s behavior (I’m not entirely sure which, but I’m willing to plump for the disjunction). Given the moral state of the legal profession, even that seems unlikely, but it’s more likely, and (in my view) more proportioned to the offense, than outright removal.
Even if the online petition doesn’t work, I think the firestorm of denunciation that’s come Krot’s way is a praiseworthy thing in itself. She deserves denunciation. Indeed, I hope the anger expressed at her intensifies, and hope it becomes personal. I’d be happy to see her denied service at, say, local eating establishments, and confronted on the street until she either apologizes for her behavior, or offers an intelligible rationale for it. She offered her little homily, after all, in the people’s name. The people are entitled to hear what she has to say in defense of it.
Street confrontations have to be done with care, of course. There’s a fine line to be drawn between initiating a foreseeably unwanted conversation with someone, and harassing the person–even a public official. But there is such a line to be drawn, and I’m all in favor both of drawing it and acting on it. (Practice makes perfect.) Given the elements of the offense (see the link above), one should not confront anyone intending to annoy or torment them, or in such a manner as to cause fear in a reasonable person. But no reasonable person should be afraid of having a conversation with another person who maintains a civilized distance from her.
For example: a person might, on recognizing Judge Krot on the street, ask her for a reason for her behavior. If she declined to continue the conversation, it ought to stop. But there’s no reason to pre-empt the conversation simply because one predicts that she’d decline to continue it. Confrontation is the only way real way to teach someone what it’s like to be confronted, put on the spot, and shamed. That’s the lesson the Alexis Krots of the world need to learn.
Obviously, public officials have the right, in their official capacity, to confront us on the street, to haul us into court, and to force us to answer for our misdeeds. They need to be reminded that while we don’t, legally speaking, have quite those powers, we aren’t powerless, either. There is no law against starting an unpleasant conversation. If Socrates could find a way to do it, so can you.
Some news outlets have reported that Judge Krot currently serves as “the board secretary and a trustee for the Academy of the Sacred Heart,” a local Catholic prep school. The information comes from her official biography, which was–in a rather typical act of officialized cowardice–discreetly deleted soon after the controversy broke.* It’s not clear to me whether Judge Krot still serves in that capacity at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, but if she does, she should be removed. Indeed, the school itself should be pressured to remove her, and pressured to explain why.
And no, I don’t think that such pressure should be restricted to online space. I think it would be a nice idea to apply for a permit and have a physical demonstration outside the school. I’d like to think that a nice, civilized group of 100 or so could be assembled for the purpose. The law allows it, and in my view, justice demands it.
The school makes a big deal about its Catholic values. It also makes a big deal about its connection to Judge Krot herself. Well, according to Aquinas, the Doctor of the Catholic Church, misericordia is a Catholic value.** Judge Krot’s courtroom behavior is a public trampling on misericordia. If the Academy of the Sacred Heart can brag about Judge Krot’s supposed virtues (as it does, pp. 6-7), it can also denounce her for her vices and distance itself from her when the occasion merits, as it plainly does. Those who use morality as PR run the risk of being invited to live up to it. It’s a risk they’ve brought on themselves.
Could such a campaign get out of hand? Sure. Does it run the risk of descending into an orgy of unthinking hate? Maybe. But that’s not what I’m recommending, and as I’ve said before, if it happens, it’s neither my fault nor my problem. I regard Judge Krot’s behavior as reprehensible, but I don’t hold her responsible for anything beyond it. The same reasoning applies to those of us who want to hold her accountable for that behavior.
*Here’s a photo of the original, since deleted.
**For an excellent discussion, see Robert Miner, “The Difficulties of Mercy: Reading Thomas Aquinas on Misericordia,” Studies in Christian Ethics, vol. 28:1 (2015). See also Shawn Floyd, “Aquinas and the Obligations of Mercy,” Journal of Religious Ethics 37:3 (2009).