Appeals court decision clears way for lawsuit

Photo courtesy of the city of Dearborn

Julie Pucci (second from left) watches as 19th District Court Judge William Hultgren (left) is sworn in for his fourth six-year term by outgoing state Rep. Gino Polidori (D-Dearborn) Dec. 15. A federal appeals court ruling cleared the way for Pucci’s wrongful termination lawsuit against 19th District Court Judge Mark Somers to continue.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Former 19th District Court employee Julie Pucci will get her say as a plaintiff.

Her suit against Chief Judge Mark Somers, which began in 2007, will be heard sometime in the next two weeks in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The way for that hearing was cleared by an opinion issued in December by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which states that while Somers cannot be sued in his official position as a judge, he can be sued as an individual.

“I am thrilled with the opinion,” Pucci said. “It has been a long and trying four-year process.”

Pucci, who worked as deputy court administrator until she was terminated in 2006, sued Somers a year later, alleging wrongful termination due to her complaints regarding Somers’ use of religious language in court settings and Bible passages on court stationery.

“There’s a reason why you have separation of church and state,” Pucci said. “You certainly don’t have it there.”

Two other female employees, Sharon Langen and Simone Calvas, also filed suit against Somers at the same time.

Langen was dismissed from her job around the same time as Pucci, and Calvas was fired some six months later after she spoke out about Pucci’s termination.

Calvas’ case is scheduled to be heard in 36th District Court Jan. 31. Langen’s was discussed at recent a status conference with Eastern District Judge Corbett O’Meara; a trial date is yet to be determined.

Pucci said her live-in relationship with Somers’ fellow 19th District judge, William Hultgren, also led to her dismissal. She believes it was a combination of the two issues that led to her removal, saying Somers disapproved of the relationship from an ethical point of view, alleging nepotism.

The court’s anti-nepotism policy at the time Pucci was fired said that only relatives, including married couples, were ineligible for employment in the same court. The Michigan Supreme Court determined in 2005 that the spirit of the law had been violated, though not the letter of it.

Somers said he made his decision from the standpoint that Pucci and Hultgren effectively were married, adding that her position had been eliminated, and that she had not been fired.

Not true, Hultgren said.

“It’s still firing,” he said. “One day you’re working and one day you’re not.”

Of the recent court proceedings for her and her former colleagues, Pucci said, “I’m grateful we have a justice system that is allowing all three female employees who have been negatively impacted by Judge Somers to have our day in court.”

Said Hultgren: “The most important thing is that it’s coming to a head.”