LANSING — Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein told the Free Press Thursday he arrived in Israel two days ago after spending close to three months in Dubai, where he said he is working on an international program to improve cultural understanding.
Bernstein, who left Michigan Jan. 7, said he will return to the state once the court resumes in-person hearings, but in the meantime has been working through a cultural program that is part of the Abraham Accords, signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, to improve understanding of Jewish people and people with disabilities. Bernstein has been blind since birth.
With the court holding its hearings remotely through video conference, “why not do this?” Bernstein asked. “If we were holding regular court, I wouldn’t.”
“I feel that if I’m going to work remotely anyway, why not go and do something?”
Bernstein said an article in the Jerusalem Post that revealed his lengthy absence from Michigan contained some inaccuracies, including the claim he quarantined in Dubai for two weeks on his way to Israel, but that Israel closed its borders and he was told he could either stay in Dubai or fly home to Michigan.
In fact, Bernstein said he was supposed to spend two weeks in Dubai as part of the program, return to Michigan and visit Israel at a later date. But the program, which has included interviews with Arab media, visits to schools, and other work, has been so successful that organizers asked him to remain in Dubai longer, he said.
Bernstein said the program organizers would normally pay his expenses and a stipend but he has refused any payments because of his position on the court and has been paying all of his expenses from his own funds.
He said he is now in Israel and has plans to visit Uzbekistan and possibly other countries as part of the cultural program, before returning.
Bernstein began an eight-year term on the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2015 after he was elected in November 2014. Bernstein was a Democratic nominee to the court, though justices are elected on the nonpartisan portion of the Michigan ballot.
The Jerusalem Post article describes Bernstein reciting court filings, which he often commits to memory, on the Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk in Dubai.
“The Palm’s crescent is like a runway without obstacles, so I have my phone and cane to navigate while focusing on my work assignment at the same time,” he told the newspaper.
The Michigan Supreme Court held oral arguments Wednesday and has more scheduled for Thursday.