Charles Kaufman (judge)
Born in 1920, Kaufman served as a navigator for the Army Air Force during World War II. He became a POW (prisoner of war) in Japanese prison camp when his plane was shot down after 27 missions.
After the war, Kaufman graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 1948, and joined his father's firm before winning the election for Common Pleas Court Judge in 1959, and Wayne County Third Circuit Court of Michigan in 1964 where he served for 30 years. He also was a candidate for the First District of the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1968 and 1982, and a Michigan State Supreme Court candidate in 1976.
Third Circuit Court
During his tenure as Third Circuit Court Judge was known for leniency towards first time offenders. In 1977, when a 17-year old African American male, Greg Mathis, was arrested on a concealed-weapons charge, Judge Kaufman handed a sentence of probation, provided that Mathis enrolled and passed a G.E.D. course in six months. Mathis turned away from gang behavior, and in 1994, he went on to become the youngest judge elected to the 36th District Court in Detroit, eventually becoming a popular television personality as Judge Mathis.
Judge Kaufman is the judge who sentenced former Chrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz on March 16, 1983 to three years probation and $3,780 in fines and court costs after they were convicted of manslaughter for the killing of Vincent Chin. Asian American advocacy groups were outraged. Ebens had gone with Nitz to hunt down Chin and the only other Asian in his group of four friends and had Nitz hold Chin down as Ebens used a baseball bat to viciously beat Chin in the head. Though Ebens was still employed by Chrysler at the time of the attack, the act was seen as the hate crime of a laid-off American autoworker taking out his frustration about the Japanese automobile industry on an innocent person.
Citing the judge's POW record as one of several reasons to invalidate the lenient sentence in favor of a more stringent punishment, advocacy groups unsuccessfully tried to vacate the original sentence. Kaufman cited the defendants' clean prior criminal records and that there was no minimum sentence for a manslaughter plea as he responded, "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail... You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal."  Kaufman's sentence was upheld as valid and final, due to the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy, and the advocacy groups shifted their efforts toward a Federal prosecution for the violation of Vincent Chin's civil rights. This would also prove ultimately unsuccessful after an appeal and retrial of Ebens' original 1984 Federal conviction resulted in acquittal,.
Interestingly enough, Judge Kaufman issued a number of notable decisions jailing other individuals to jail for committing less heinous offences.
Judge Kaufman jailed an entire town board for failing to approve a sewer line in December 1978 (stating, when asked how long the town board would remain in jail, “Well, what is their life expectancy?”) and again in March 1979. Members were eventually released in 1979 after two members (one of whom was concerned about her medical condition) finally agreed to approve the sewer line
In November 1974, Judge Kaufman sentenced 11 teachers to jail after they refused to return to work. Judge Kaufman sentenced the chief negotiator in a strike to 30 days in jail and 10 other teachers to 5 days in jail.
Judge Kaufman never showed remorse for the sentences he issued in the Vincent Chin case, stating that such sentencing was something that “happens regularly in Recorder’s Court and here (circuit court.)”
Judge Kaufman later retired from the Third Circuit Court, and died in 2004.
- The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Kaufman
- Asian American Empowerment - Asian Americans Nationwide Remember Vincent Chin
- http://waynelawyer.wayne.edu/09/2004/issue5/feature-three/ Memoriam of Charles Kaufman
- Greg Mathis: Biography and Much More from Answers.com
- Helen Zia (2000). Asian American Dreams. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-14774-4.
- Ronald Ebens vs. Chrysler Corporation, 88-810078 CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1988).
- "Judge Jails Entire Town Board". The Evening Independent. December 29, 1978.
- "Board is Jailed Again". The Toledo Blade. March 3, 1979.
- "Garden City Teachers are Ordered Jailed". The Argus Press. November 16, 1974.
- "Judge Stunned by Outcry". Argus Press. May 11, 1983.