Judge shames 72-year-old cancer patient too weak to care for his lawn

In the three years since his cancer diagnosis, Burhan Chowdhury struggled to tend to his garden and keep his property in suburban Detroit in good condition. In a recent Michigan state court appearance over Zoom, the 72-year-old struggled to breathe as he told a judge he was “very weak” and unable to clean the grass that had invaded the house during the summer.

But 31st District Judge Alexis G. Krot had no sympathy for Chowdhury. Instead, she shamed the cancer patient for the neighborhood burn in Hamtramck, Michigan — and told him the punishment she wished she could have given him.

“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Krot said Monday. “If I could give you jail time for that, I would.”

After fining Chowdhury $100 for not keeping up with house maintenance, Krot called the amount of grass on his driveways “totally inappropriate”. When Chowdhury reiterated that he was “very ill”, Krot said his inability to cope with his property was inexcusable.

“The neighbors shouldn’t have to watch this,” she told him. Krot repeated, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

A video of the legal exchange was shared on social media, with many critics criticizing the judge for the way she handled what should have been a routine hearing. Among these was Shibbir Chowdhury, who joined his father for the hearing this week.

“The way she said my dad should serve jail time for this thing really bothered me,” Chowdhury, 33, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “I was really shocked by that. I didn’t expect her to yell at us in this kind of situation.

Krot did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday. His role as a judge prohibits him from commenting on the case, according to WDIV.

Burhan Chowdhury and his family came to the United States from Bangladesh in 2010, eventually settling in Michigan full-time in 2014, his son said. They bought their house in Hamtramck, located about 10 km from downtown Detroit, in 2016.

The family was devastated when Chowdhury was diagnosed with lymph node cancer in February 2019, her son told the Post. Shibbir Chowdhury said he saw his father’s health deteriorate not only from cancer but also from a heart problem and high blood pressure. His mother also had health problems after falling down the stairs and injuring her back, he said.

“It’s been difficult,” the son said, adding that cancer treatments had affected his father’s mobility.

Although Shibbir Chowdhury and his mother have been diligent in cleaning up the yard since being diagnosed with cancer, the family faced challenges when the son traveled to Bangladesh for three months last year. With her parents unable to keep up with maintenance, grass and weeds grew out of control in front and on the side of the house, Chowdhury said.

When the son returned home, his father informed him that they had received a ticket on August 2, 2021, for, what Krot later described as, “failing to guard the fence, the driveway, the sidewalk or driveway free of trees, leaves” or other items. Chowdhury noted that the region’s rainy season also played a role in vegetation spiraling out of control.

“It was a chain reaction,” he said. “The neighbors probably complained and took the photo which was sent to the city.”

The family cleaned the house soon after, but Burhan Chowdhury still had to appear in court to see if he had to pay a fine. The father knew nothing of Krot, who had been appointed to the bench by the governor at the time. Rick Snyder in 2016. She was re-elected to the non-partisan position in 2020 after running unopposed.

Around 2:45 p.m. Monday, Krot called Chowdhury to talk. Although English is not his first language, Chowdhury introduced himself, explaining that he was a cancer patient who had become too weak to maintain the facade of the house on his own.

Then the judge pulled out a photo taken from Chowdhury’s house and expressed his disgust.

“You need to clean this up,” she told him.

After ordering her to pay the $100 fine by February 1, Shibbir Chowdhury asked her if she understood that her father was suffering from cancer. Krot answered his question with another question: “Have you seen this photo?”

Towards the end of the exchange, Burhan Chowdhury was heard saying, “Oh my God.”

Shibbir Chowdhury said his father did not understand everything that was being said, but the judge’s message was clear to him.

“She told my father, a sick man, that he had to go to prison. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “You can’t give a 72-year-old a jail term for not cleaning up an alley.”

Clips of the exchange have been viewed thousands of times on social media, with critics defending Burhan Chowdhury and deriding Krot as “very rude and unprofessional”.

“I believe you don’t even deserve to sit in this chair,” a Hamtramck resident wrote on Facebook.

Shibbir Chowdhury said he plans to pay the fine for his father in the coming days. He reiterated that the house is in good condition now, and has been for the past few months. The son was also surprised by the online support offered to his father during his interaction with the judge.

“People understand that a situation like this can happen with an elderly or sick person,” he said. “I’m so grateful to those in our city who have supported us and let us know they are on our side.”

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