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Judge apologizes for shaming 72-year-old cancer patient for overgrown lawn

31st District Judge Alexis G. Krot of Michigan, top, told Burhan Chowdhury that he “should be ashamed” for not keeping up with his overgrown walkways. (Screenshot via YouTube/WDIV)
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A Michigan judge has apologized to a 72-year-old cancer patient after she shamed him in court for not maintaining his yard and faced widespread condemnation for her harsh remarks.

District Judge Alexis G. Krot told Burhan Chowdhury during a Michigan state court appearance over Zoom earlier this month that he “should be ashamed” of himself for being unable to clean up the grass that had overtaken the property. Chowdhury struggled to breathe as he explained to the judge that he was “very weak,” but Krot continued to criticize him for the neighborhood blight in Hamtramck, Mich., saying, “If I could give you jail time on this, I would.”

“I made a mistake,” Krot said in a statement shared with The Washington Post. “I acted intemperately. I’m very embarrassed that I did so. I apologize to the person who appeared before me and to our entire community for having failed to meet the high standards that we expect of our judicial officers, and that I expect of myself.”

Judge shames 72-year-old cancer patient too weak to tend to his lawn

The comments toward Chowdhury from Krot, who represents the 31st District, have been met with a backlash since a video of the court exchange was shared on social media. A petition calling for her to be removed from the bench had more than 230,000 signatures as of early Friday.

Krot said she recently self-reported her behavior to the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, which evaluates and investigates any complaints alleging misconduct by judicial officers stemming from violations in Michigan court.

“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,” she said.

Lynn Helland, the executive director and general counsel for the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, said the group was prohibited from commenting on specific cases and was unable to say whether there was an active investigation involving Krot. The commission has the power to recommend to the state Supreme Court that a judge be censured, suspended or removed if an investigation finds that a court official violated state rules, he said.

“It takes seriously all complaints that a Michigan judge has violated the ethical rules that govern judges,” Helland said. “The action the Commission takes depends on the judge’s history and all of the circumstances disclosed by the investigation.”

Shibbir Chowdhury, who joined his father for the Jan. 10 court hearing, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The 33-year-old son told The Post last week that he was “really shocked” Krot berated his father in court.

“The way she said that my father should serve jail time for this thing really bugged me,” he said. “I didn’t expect her to yell at us in this kind of a situation.”

The family was devastated when Burhan Chowdhury was diagnosed with cancer in his lymph nodes in February 2019, years after coming to the United States from Bangladesh and settling outside Detroit, his son told The Post. Shibbir Chowdhury said he has seen his father’s health deteriorate not just from the cancer but also a heart issue and high blood pressure. His mother also has faced health problems after she fell down the stairs and hurt her back, he said.

The couple faced challenges in maintaining the property when their son traveled to Bangladesh for three months last year. With his parents unable to keep up on the maintenance, the grass and weeds grew out of control in front of and on the side of the house, Shibbir Chowdhury said.

The family was issued a ticket in early August for what Krot later described as “failing to keep the fence, walkway, sidewalk or alley free of trees, leaves” or other items. Chowdhury noted that the region’s rainy season also played a role in the vegetation getting out of control.

“It was a chain reaction,” he said. “The neighbors probably complained and took the picture that was sent to the city.”

Even though the family cleaned up the property soon after getting the ticket, Burhan Chowdhury still had to make a court appearance to see whether he would have to pay a fine. That’s where he was introduced to Krot, who was appointed to the bench in 2016 by then-Gov. Rick Snyder (R).

After Krot called on Chowdhury to speak, the father explained he was a cancer patient who had become too weak to maintain the property on his own.

But the judge’s tone shifted when she pulled up a photo taken of Chowdhury’s home and expressed her disgust.

“The neighbors should not have to look at that,” she told him, also threatening jail time. “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

When his father was ordered to pay the $100 fine by Feb. 1, Shibbir Chowdhury asked the judge whether she understood that his father was suffering from cancer. Krot answered his question with another question: “Have you seen that photo?”

Shibbir Chowdhury said his father didn’t understand everything that was said but that the judge’s message was clear to him. Toward the end of the exchange, Burhan Chowdhury was heard saying, “Oh, my God.”

“She was telling my father, a sick person, that he should go to jail. That’s ridiculous,” the son said. “You can’t give a 72-year-old person jail time for not cleaning an alley.”

Since the court exchange first made news, many have reached out to the Chowdhury family and offered to pay the fine or service their property for no charge. Shibbir Chowdhury noted that he paid the fine himself but that the family was overwhelmed by the support given to them.

“People understand that a situation like this can happen with someone who is old or sick,” he said.

Krot said in a statement that when someone comes before her and has made a mistake, she expects them to own up to it. She acknowledged that she expects the same out of herself — “No ifs, ands or buts.”

“I will continue to hold myself to the standards I set for others,” she said.

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