In the earlier decisions, the Supreme Court had upheld and ordered enforcement of a settlement agreement that the parties had previously negotiated and consummated, in particular the reinstatement of Elaine Steele and former judge Adam Shakoor as trustees and co-personal representatives of the estate, as nominated in the trust agreement. There had also been litigation over attorneys fees exceeding $120,000 incurred by a law firm.
After remand on the earlier decisions, the attorney for Steele and the Institute, not named in the opinion but identified in a Detroit Free Press article as Steven G. Cohen of Farmington Hills, Michigan, filed a petition naming the probate judge as a respondent, and charging that he had engaged in a conspiracy with the attorneys for other parties to disregard the trust's nomination of Steele and Shakoor and to replace them with "long-term probate court cronies." He then petitioned the probate judge to order his own disqualification based on claims that he was not impartial and that he was now a party to the proceedings. Other petitions followed.
In May 2012, the judge advised that he was taking the disqualification motion under advisement, and postponed the other petitions pending a decision on that motion. Thereafter, Cohen filed a proposed default and default judgment, submitted interrogatories (written questions) to the judge, and served him with a subpoena for deposition.
The probate judge ultimately denied the disqualification motion, dismissed the petition alleging conspiracy, and made rulings on other petitions.
The decision by the Court of Appeals includes the following rulings:
- The dismissal of the conspiracy petition was affirmed. The probate court had no jurisdiction to hear the conspiracy claim, since the issues in question had previously been ruled upon by the court, with no appeal filed.
- The challenging parties had advanced no evidence to support claims of conflict of interest or inappropriate conduct which would warrant disqualification. Naming a judge as a party and then seeking his disqualification would open every litigated case to manipulation by any party, if permitted.
- The court still had authority to make rulings on issues other than those directed by the previous appellate decisions reversing and remanding the case with instructions to enter one particular order.
- The issues raised regarding the accountings filed by the fiduciaries were unsupported by legal arguments and thus were not preserved for appeal.