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Family of Dead Appeals Court Judge In Seclusion

November 16, 1986

FRANKLIN, Mich. (AP) _ The family of a judge remained in seclusion Saturday, a day after he killed himself following his indictment on charges of taking a $20,000 bribe.

Court of Appeals Judge S. Jerome Bronson shot himself Friday in the barn outside his family home.

Bronson, 55, died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to an autopsy performed Saturday at the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office. County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson also said friends of Bronson told him the gunshot wound was self-inflicted.

A source close to the family said the judge killed himself with his own .38-caliber handgun. Bronson did not tell his wife of his plans when he walked out of the house to the barn, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Bronson was accused of accepting the bribe from a party involved in a case pending before him. According to the Detroit Free Press, the case involved an appeal of a Wayne County Circuit Court decision in which Ford Motor Co. was ordered to pay $3.25 million to a man who became a quadriplegic after his Ford truck plunged down a mountain in Kentucky.

Bronson’s family remained at their home Saturday in this tiny, affluent suburb north of Detroit. At the request of the family, two police officers have been posted there around the clock, said police Sgt. Ben David.

″The family is in seclusion. They do not want to be disturbed,″ David said.

″The tragic taking of his own life climaxed a very sad situation for the family and friends of Justice Bronson and of the judiciary as a whole,″ Supreme Court Chief Justice G. Mennen Williams said Saturday.

Appeals Court Chief Judge Robert Danhof said he learned within the past two weeks ″of allegations that a person outside the court was soliciting money to influence the outcome of a pending appeal.″

″I was shocked that the investigation resulted in the issuance of a complaint against Judge Bronson and I am saddened by the news of his tragic death,″ Danhof said.

″I’m just totally shocked. It’s a very sad thing,″ added Appeals Court Judge William R. Beasley, who heard oral arguments with Bronson on Friday before state police arrested Bronson on charges of accepting a $20,000 bribe and conspiring to accept another $20,000 bribe.

″It is a shock and a blow to me for everything that has happened today,″ Beasley said. ″Judge Bronson was just not the kind of person you would have expected something like this from.″

Bronson was arraigned Friday in Ingham County Circuit Court and was released on personal recognizance. He then went to his home in Franklin and spoke to Williams via telephone about 4:30 p.m., Farrell said.

″At 4:45, he walked out to his barn and killed himself,″ Farrell said. Family members called police shortly afterward.

The bribery charges were brought by state police and the state attorney general’s office, which investigated Bronson at the appeals court’s request, said Assistant Attorney General Stanley Steinborn.

According to court records, Bronson was accused of ″corruptly″ accepting $20,000 ″under an agreement and understanding that his vote, opinion or judgment would be given in favor of a party on a cause pending before him.″

Court records did not indicate who allegedly paid the bribe. But Steinborn, who signed the complaint against Bronson, said the judge allegedly accepted the money without encouragement.

Steinborn said the investigation had concluded and no further arrests were expected. Asked if anyone in the case was offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for cooperating with investigators, Steinborn said, ″Yes.″

A three-judge panel, which included Bronson and Beasley, heard oral arguments in the case Thursday, the Free Press reported in its Sunday editions, quoting unidentified court officials. Final decisions in appeals court cases can take several weeks.

″We can unequivocably deny that Ford Motor Co. or any of its attorneys were involved in any way in any allegations of bribery,″ Ford spokeswoman Mary Joseph told the newspaper.

The accident victim, Michael Harrigan of Louisville, Ky., said he had heard nothing about the bribery allegations, the newspaper said.

The attorney general’s office would not discuss details of the bribery case in deference to the judge’s family, said Robert Ianni, assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal law division.

Bronson, an appellate judge since 1969, was unopposed in winning re- election Nov. 4 to a six-year term. Appeals judges are paid $78,149 a year.

Judicial vacancies in Michigan are filled by gubernatorial appointment until the next statewide electin, which will be in November 1988. No successor to Bronson would be named immediately, said Richard Cole, a spokesman for Gov. James Blanchard.

Bronson is survived by his wife, Claire, and two sons.

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