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Charles Kaufman

Judge Charles Kaufman
Wayne County
Detroit, Michigan
retired in 1992, died in 2004

On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two unemployed white auto workers who mistook him as Japanese.

A 27-year-old Chinese-American, Chin was celebrating his last days of bachelorhood in a Detroit bar.   An argument broke out between him and Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler Motors foreman.   Ebens shouted ethnic insults, the fight moved outside, and before onlookers, Ebens bludgeoned Chin to death with a baseball bat while Michael Nitz, Ebens’s stepson and a laid-off Chrysler assembly-line worker, held Chin down.  Chin died on June 23, 1982.

In the ensuing trial, Ebens and Nitz were convicted of manslaughter, and Judge Kaufman sentenced both to three years probation and imposed a $3,780 fine.  A U.S. Department of Justice civil rights prosecution was initially successful but was overturned, Ebens v. U.S., 800 F.2d 1422 (1986).

The lenient sentences prompted discussion of legal reforms in Michigan, culminating in the passage of the Crime Victims Rights Act in 1985 and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines

In 1987, a civil suit against Ebens and Nitz was settled for $1.5 million.  Ebens’ homeowners’ policy paid about $20,000.  Nitz has made regular payments.  Ebens boasted that Chin’s mother would never see the money.  Ebens placed his assets in his wife’s name and lives in Nevada.  If you can assist in any way, contact

Jim Brescoll
Attorney at Law

222 Merrill St.
Birmingham, Michigan 48009
(248) 540-4300
Fax: (248) 540-0220

Lily Chin, Vincent Chin’s mother, moved back to Canton Province, China, until she returned to the U.S. for medical treatment.  She died on June 9, 2002, a few days before the 20th anniversary of her son’s death.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Charles Kaufman

  1. The Chin case is a deeply political issue. I am a 3rd generation Japanese American woman who grew up in Detroit and was married there by Judge Kaufman in a civil ceremony with all my Asian relatives present. There is no way that
    I would consider Judge Kaufman racially biased
    by his war experiences anymore than I would
    consider my family biased by theirs. The Chin case was a legal matter and the judge consistent in his rulings throughout his career. I see that the
    Michigan legislature changed the leniency standards for first offenders just as they have changed the overly severely standards for drug possession. The law responds to societal changes.

    Posted by Margaret Ikeda | May 13, 2020, 8:28 am
    • Wow, that’s pretty harsh criticism coming from a complete stranger-not a lot of sense in doing so. I certainly don’t claim to be inside the head of people I don’t know. I’m not a judge or a lawyer and don’t claim to know the facts of the case, or to know what the plaintiffs and defendants are feeling.
      Since I posted, I learned that the wayward youth Judge Kaufman gave a light sentence to became a Judge, Judge Mathis in Michigan, so in at least one case, his sentencing gave a person a chance to change for the better.

      Posted by MIkeda | August 16, 2020, 7:39 pm
  2. “Margaret Ikeda”, I finding it interesting that you felt compelled to post on this subject based on a single encounter with Kaufman after all these years. To be blunt, action speaks louder than words. I’m sure Vincent’s mom and family would have a very different point of view. Hmm, says Kaufman. One murdered Asian and 2 white careers at risk. What to do, what to do. What’s my priority? What about Vincent’s rights that were FOREVER taken away? I would ask you, what if the situation was reversed. Would the good judge have let Vincent off with no prison time after killing Nitz or Ebens? I think we both know the answer. In any case, no skin off your nose because it didn’t affect you or your family, right? Like Nitz and Ebens, you got the opportunity to start your family and continue living your life in oblivion. While Vincent is still dead and buried. I think Vincent’s family (if they could) would now ask again. Where’s the justice?

    Posted by Walter Carrington | August 16, 2020, 7:15 pm
  3. “Margaret Ikeda”, Clearly you still feel totally justified in making the statement “There is no way that
    I would consider Judge Kaufman racially biased”. And yet no rebuttal from you on any of the points I raised. I give you full credit for being consistent and sticking with your apologist role.

    Be sure to let me know when Vincent gets his second chance to do better. I’ll offer my full and unreserved apology then.

    Posted by Walter Carrington | September 1, 2020, 11:37 pm
    • My comments come out of a shared Asian American experience with Vincent Chin, as a 3rd generation Japanese American, with the film director of a PBS 3 part series in 2020 on Asian Americans which was the reason for my original comment. My father, a Nisei, who fought in WWII was fiercely loyal to the US despite what
      It did to his Japanese American family in America, and he became an auto worker in Detroit. The film director, who
      made the point about Chin, perhaps had a different viewpoint from me, and she is related by me by marriage between my aunt and her uncle. She grew up in Pasadena and went to Harvard. I grew up in Detroit and went to University of Chicago. Judge Kaufman did more than marry me. A stranger to me but not my husband’s family, he took the hours to reflect on the meaning of my marriage, and to impart his thoughts in a thoughtful way, joining
      my family for the wedding and reception. This was long before Vincent Chin, so to say he had only one side to him, is not to give him credence as a person. I have a young adult adopted son from China who faces discrimination and bias in the U.S. today in the aftermath of terrible racist comments by our President, as recently as yesterday. I teach him the lessons learned from Vincent Chin. Son, don’t get drunk in a public bar, don’t fight with strangers, please don’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time because I love you.

      Posted by MIkeda | September 2, 2020, 7:43 am
    • Walter Carrington
      Regarding your comment about “justice”, and being philosophical for a moment, (and I feel my shared Asian American experience with Vincent Chin allows me more than that), Vincent Chin and his deceased mother are no longer asking for justice. Who is asking for justice for Chin, society? Can justice be found in monetary settlements which is the limited tradition of British/American law? Or should it be an eye for and eye? Or are we talking about social reform or societal change?
      I do not believe prison time reforms people and spending time in prison is correlated with recidivism. Convicted felons like Chin’s killers, are not eligible for state employment, work in schools, and many civil service jobs that require background checks,. Society limits felons rights.
      Vincent Chin’s societal justice is a change from
      “them vs us” racism to seeing all Americans as equal.

      Posted by Margaret Ikeda | September 2, 2020, 8:31 am

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