Wolchek Investigation: Judge Powers

Oakland Co. judge busted on the job

By Rob Wolchek, Fox 2 News Investigative Reporter

NOVI, Mich. (WJBK) -- It's Monday morning, May 20, at the 52nd District Court in Novi.

The docket is full. Court starts at 8:34 sharp. All the defendants and all the attorneys are waiting, but his honor isn't there. By nine, there's still no judge in this Novi courtroom. In fact, the judge isn't even in Novi.

His shiny, white vehicle is still in front of his house miles away. At 9:08 a.m., he hasn't left for work yet.

All rise for the Honorable Dennis Powers, a District Court judge who makes $138,272 a year in taxpayer money.

Wolchek to Powers: You're never to court on time are you?

Powers to Wolchek: I'm where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be whenever I'm supposed to be there.

It's 9:00 a.m. on Friday, May 17. The courthouse is open, and the judge's wheels are parked in front of his house.

Judge Powers does not leave his house until 11:55 a.m. He's already three and a half hours late, but at 12:15 p.m., he is chowing down and chewing the fat in a Waterford gas station that has a Subway store and Dunkin Donuts inside.

At 12:55 p.m., the judge heads into McDonald's. He has quite an appetite for a guy who hasn't even been to work yet.    

At 1:05 p.m., Judge Powers goes to a credit union in Waterford.

At 1:27 p.m., the judge is in Union Lake filling his tank.   

At 2:20 p.m., Judge Powers arrives for a long hard day at work, but not too long since the courthouse closes in two hours and ten minutes.   

If you think that was an easy day at work, wait until you find out what he does on Monday, May 13.

First let's talk about the courthouse calendar. There are three judges at Novi's 52-1 Court: Judge Bondy, Judge Powers and Judge MacKenzie. While it appears Judge Bondy had a week in March off, Judge Powers is listed as being at work, but attending a conference.

I found out Judge Powers wasn't at a conference. He was in Aruba on vacation, relaxing at the La Cabana Beach and Racquet Club.  The judge belongs to a vacation plan called Bluegreen Resorts.

He was booked at the Solara Surfside in Miami in January, the same week his calendar says he's at another conference.

In February, he was booked at the Casa Del Mar resort, the exact same week his calendar says he was at another conference.  

In late April and early May, we actually followed the judge during his conference week. We found him vacationing with his wife at the Mountainloft Resort in Tennessee.

It's another conference week, and Judge Powers is at another Bluegreen Resort living it up.

After taking a whole week off work, the judge has the nerve to show up an hour and 45 minutes late when he gets back on the job. That's no surprise because I watched him pull into the parking lot late all the time. Remember, court starts at 8:34 a.m.

Even though he always showed up late, he's always up for a nice break from the courthouse at the donut house. The clock is ticking, but the judge is kickin', kickin' back with a long john and a lady friend.

Judge Powers isn't a "hangin' judge," he's a "hangin' around judge."

We watched the judge hanging around for days and days and days, but nothing like this next day.

Monday, May 13th. It's 11:13 a.m. and the judge hasn't even left his house yet. His docket had 23 cases, all starting early in the morning.

At 11:32 a.m., the judge gets a car wash just a mile from the court.

At 11:36 a.m., fill 'er up. Gee, the judge isn't even at work yet, and get this, he's not going to work!

At noon, Judge Powers is at a swanky country club in Commerce Township. First he gets his grub on, and then he gets his game on.

Why waste a nice day in a stuffy old courthouse. Instead of swinging' his gavel, Judge Powers spends the day swinging his golf clubs.

Exactly one week after the golf day, on May 20, I'm ready to bring some order to the court.

Wolchek to Powers: Hey, where were you this morning?

Powers to Wolchek: Whaddaya mean where was I?

Wolchek to Powers: Well, you had court at 8:30, and I had a camera in the courtroom request, and you didn't show up until almost ten o'clock.

Powers to Wolchek: I didn't show in the courtroom until ten o'clock, that's correct, sir.

Wolchek to Powers: I saw you pulling into the parking lot at about 9:57.

Powers to Wolchek: Well, I don't know what time it was, but it could have been, yes, sir.

Wolchek to Powers: Where were you?  How come you were late?

Powers to Wolchek: I had to run an errand.

He didn't run any errand. He didn't leave his house until 9:30 a.m.

Wolchek to Powers: What time did you get to work on Friday?

Powers to Wolchek: Hmmm. Noon I think.

Wolchek to Powers: Naw, you got to work at 2:20. What was going on Friday that you didn't get to work until after two o'clock?

Powers to Wolchek: I had a meeting.

Wolchek to Powers: Who was the meeting with?

Powers to Wolchek: I'd prefer not to say.

Wolchek to Powers: What happened last Monday when you canceled your whole docket?

Powers to Wolchek: We had a golf outing.

Wolchek to Powers: You had a golf outing?

Powers to Wolchek: Yes, sir.

Wolchek to Powers: So you canceled your whole docket?

Powers to Wolchek: Yes, sir.

Wolchek to Powers: So you had a whole bunch of attorneys and defendants...

Powers to Wolchek: I canceled ahead of time. It was a chamber golf outing. That's correct. I participated in that, yes, sir.

Wolchek to Powers: But aren't you being paid by the county to be a judge?

Powers to Wolchek: Yes, sir.

Wolchek to Powers: So you think you put in a good week of work last week?

Powers to Wolchek: I do, sir.

Oh yeah, this guy was working like a dog.

Wolchek to Powers: Wouldn't it be an inconvenience for attorneys to have to reschedule everything because the judge is off golfing?

Powers to Wolchek: You know, you put off golfing is a little different than being in a community golf outing, and you'll find out that that's part of what being a judge is about.

What about those conferences days on his calendar?

Wolchek to Powers: Where were you?

Powers to Wolchek: I was on vacation.

Wolchek to Powers: You were on vacation. Why does it say conference then?

Powers to Wolchek: It's just the way it was worded on the docket.

That's funny.  You're the only judge who has his vacation days listed as conference. So how many actual vacation days has the judge taken this year?

Powers to Wolchek: This year, I think I've taken, eight, nine, ten, something like that.

Wolchek to Powers: So you're going back to court now.

Powers to Wolchek: No, I'm going to go golfing right now.  I've got my clubs, and I'm heading off to the golf course.

Wolchek to Powers: Are you being sarcastic? I don't even know.

Powers to Wolchek: I'm being sarcastic.

Wolchek to Powers: Well, you were golfing last week weren't you?

Powers to Wolchek: I was golfing.

Wolchek to Powers: And you had a docket?

Powers to Wolchek: I had no docket. I canceled the docket to attend a chamber golf outing.

Wolchek to Powers: Well I'm going to go get the docket so I can see, and I'll talk to those attorneys and I'll see how they felt and the defendants how they felt about the fact that you canceled the docket and they took days off from work and they rescheduled things and you were out golfing and I'll see what they have to say.

I couldn't find out what those defendants and attorneys had to say because the court would only release a piece of paper, which stated that 23 cases had to be rescheduled the day Judge Powers decided to go golfing. There were no names and no case numbers.

I also asked the county and the court for the judge's official vacation records. Once again, it was a no-go.

With that, I rest my case.

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