1975 : Time Publishes Expose on Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Swainson

July 14, 2024 all-day

 The Rise and Fall of Michigan Governor John Swainson book cover

On July 14, 1975, Time magazine published an article on Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Swainson being convicted of perjury over his testimony to a grand jury on a case in which he was accused of accepting a $20,000 bribe for a felon. Swainson was found innocent on the bribery charge, but was still sentenced to 60 days in a minimum-security prison and lost his law license for three years.

Mr. Swainson, a Democrat, was elected Governor in 1960, served a two-year term and was narrowly defeated after a re-election campaign in which the state’s economy was a major issue. He said he had been thwarted by Republican legislators in efforts to revamp the state’s finances.

He later served as a Wayne County circuit judge, was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1970 and came to be seen as a prospective candidate for the United States Senate.

But his political career ended in 1975 after he was convicted, in Federal District Court in Detroit, of lying to a Federal grand jury in connection with accusations that he had accepted a bribe in 1972 to help a convicted burglar gain a review of his case. He was acquitted of conspiracy and served 60 days in a halfway house in Detroit.

Mr. Swainson was born in Windsor, Ontario, and moved with his family to Port Huron, Mich., as a toddler. He went to Port Huron schools, served in the infantry in World War II and lost both legs, just below the knees, in a land mine explosion in 1944 near Metz, France.

He earned bachelor’s and law degrees in 1949 and 1951 from the University of North Carolina. He practiced law in Detroit and was a Michigan State Senator and then Lieutenant Governor before being elected Governor. Later in life, he worked as a mediator and arbitrator.

For more information, see Eric Pace, “John Swainson, 68, Michigan Governor And Perjured Judge”, New York Times, May 6, 1994.

Lawrence M. Glazer, “Wounded Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Michigan Governor John Swainson”, (recognized as a 2011 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. Also available online), calls into question whether Swainson did in fact lie intentionally, saying his whole testimony was an unusual occurrence.

Berry Craig, “Michigan’s Second-Youngest Governor Was a Double Amputee”, O&P News, June 2012

Tonya Blust, “The “unfinished” legacy of John B. Swainson”, My Michigan, September 24, 2013.

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