Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Michael Fletcher: A Simple Case of Murder

Lady Judge

Susan Chrzanowski
Susan Chrzanowski

The Honorable Susan Chrzanowski had been on the 37th District Court Bench in Warren, Michigan since 1997 but had done little to distinguish herself as a jurist. At 32 years old, she was younger by far than most of her fellow judges; while others of a similar age were still clerking or working toward a partnership, Susan was pulling down $115,000 and running her own court. Sure, there were those who thought she was merely riding on the coattails of her famous father, the former chief judge of the Circuit Court and Warren City attorney, but she had the credentials. She was an honors law school graduate, former yearbook editor at the University of Michigan and delivered the commencement address to her high school graduating class.

Susan hadn't been well-regarded by the local bar association which had given her lower-than-average marks in her first election. Luckily, her opponent in the 1996 election was just as young and inexperienced. Like Susan, her Republican challenger was the daughter of a famous Macomb judge. That's the way politics works in Macomb County, Michigan, the birthplace of the Reagan Democrat. Children of judges go on to become judges; sons inherit their fathers' county commission seats; wives follow their husbands into the state Legislature. It's not what you know in Macomb County that gets you ahead. It's not who you know, either it's who knows you that can make or break a career in this metropolitan county. But since the election, she had steadily won friends and admirers in the Macomb County legal community. As Susan gathered experience and contacts, she could handle these minor felonies and drunken driving cases standing on her head.

"She's a rising star," one prominent politician told Cleyman.

"Susan doesn't have a good reputation," said another pol. "She has a sterling reputation."

Cleyman knew his inquiry wasn't doing Susan Chrzanowski's reputation any good, but he was forced to press on. It was clear from some of the evidence they had taken from Fletcher's home that he and the judge had been intimate. Married guys don't hide folders of cards and letters and photographs of other women in their closets for nothing, he thought to himself. And the e-mails on his computer, jeez, if my wife had found something like that, somebody would be investigating my homicide.

Mick Fletcher had known Susan Chrzanowski since he volunteered on her campaign while working in the Warren city attorney's office, Cleyman had learned. They had hit it off immediately, and their friendship had quickly blossomed into something more as they each confided in the other their marital woes. They were often seen together at Detroit-area legal functions, and some people the detective had talked to were surprised to learn that Fletcher had been married to someone else.

After one of his associates pulled the records in the 37th District Court and found that Judge Chrzanowski had assigned most of her indigent cases to Fletcher at $250 a pop to the tune of about 17 grand last year, Cleyman decided it was time to get the judge's story.

Tom Cleyman had been in the Warren courthouse many times in his career, usually to testify in some case or another, but this was the first time he had ever had the opportunity to interview a judge in connection with a case. It wasn't a happy day for the policeman. At this point, Judge Susan Chrzanowskidaughter of an acclaimed local jurist, sister of a county councilman and rising star in the Macomb County political machine in her own rightwas a suspect in a murder probe.

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