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Source: Judge Who Committed Suicide Offered To Let Lawyer Write Opinion

November 17, 1986 GMT

FRANKLIN, Mich. (AP) _ A Michigan Court of Appeals judge who committed suicide after being charged with accepting a bribe had offered to let an attorney buy a favorable decision and write the opinion, sources said.

The lawyer, representing quadriplegic Michael Harrigan of Louisville, Ky., in a suit against Ford Motor Co., rejected Judge S. Jerome Bronson’s offer, said sources who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The lawyer blew the whistle on Bronson, the sources said.

Bronson, who was charged Friday with accepting a bribe, killed himself within hours of his arraignment. He was buried Sunday.

The body of Bronson, an appellate judge since 1968, was found Friday in the horse barn behind his home in this affluent suburb of Detroit. Friends and associates have termed the death a suicide.

In an interview in today’s Detroit Free Press, former Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Justice James N. Canham confirms he was the middleman.

A source close to the investigation told The Associated Press that Canham solicited money from James Finn, Harrigan’s attorney, and told the lawyer that Bronson would let him write an ″appeal-proof opinion″ for the court.

According to the source, Canham made the offer Nov. 6, two days after Bronson, running unopposed, was re-elected to a six-year term on the bench.

Ford is appealing Harrigan’s $3.25 million award on grounds the tractor- trailer Harrigan was driving did not have a defect that led to a brake-hose rupture.

A three-judge panel, including Bronson, heard oral arguments Thursday in the appeal.

Finn told The Oakland Press, ″I can’t say anything. I’m sorry. It is in the courts.″

But sources said Finn set the investigation in motion by informing Appeals Court officials of the offer.

Canham told the Free Press he agreed to wear a hidden microphone and pass $20,000 in state money to Bronson. A source told the AP two recordings were made.

″The $20,000. Yes. I gave it to Bronson. I cooperated,″ Canham told the newspaper. ″But I can’t say anything more. ″

Canham said he was approached by state police and ″agreed to ferret out possible judicial misconduct because they concluded I was the only one in a position to assist them in their investigation.″

″I did nothing wrong,″ Canham said. ″I was not given immunity. They offered immunity, but I told them I didn’t need immunity and they ultimately did not give me immunity.″

Robert Ianni, chief of the attorney general’s criminal division, and Chief Assistant Attorney General Stanley Steinborn have refused to comment on the case’s details or confirm whether any other arrests were made.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner’s office has not issued its report of an autopsy conducted Saturday but said Bronson died of a single gunshot wound to the head. A source close to the family told the AP the 56-year-old jurist shot himself with his own .38-caliber handgun.