In the three years since he was diagnosed with cancer, Burhan Chowdhury has had a difficult time maintaining his yard and keeping his property in suburban Detroit in good shape. At a recent Michigan state court appearance over Zoom, the 72-year-old man struggled to breathe as he explained to a judge that he was “very weak” and unable to clean up the grass that had overtaken the home over the summer.
But 31st District Judge Alexis G. Krot had no sympathy for Chowdhury. Instead, she shamed the cancer patient for the neighborhood blight in Hamtramck, Mich. — and told him the punishment she wished she could have given him.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Krot said on Monday. “If I could give you jail time on this, I would.”
After issuing Chowdhury a $100 fine for failing to keep up with home maintenance, Krot called the amount of grass on his walkways “totally inappropriate.” When Chowdhury reiterated that he was “very sick,” Krot said his inability to keep up with his property was inexcusable.
“The neighbors should not have to look at that,” she told him. Krot repeated: “You should be ashamed of yourself!”
A video of the court exchange was shared on social media, with many critics blasting the judge for how she handled what should have been a routine hearing. Among those was Shibbir Chowdhury, who joined his father for the court hearing this week.
“The way she said that my father should serve jail time for this thing really bugged me,” Chowdhury, 33, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “I was really shocked by it. I didn’t expect her to yell at us in this kind of a situation.”
Krot did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday. Her role as a judge forbids her from commenting on the case, according to WDIV.
Burhan Chowdhury and his family first came to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2010, eventually settling full time in Michigan in 2014, his son said. They bought their home in Hamtramck, located about six miles from downtown Detroit, in 2016.
The family was devastated when Chowdhury was diagnosed with cancer in his lymph nodes in February 2019, his son told The Post. Shibbir Chowdhury said he’s seen his father’s health deteriorate not just from the cancer but also a heart issue and high blood pressure. His mother also has faced health issues after she fell down the stairs and hurt her back, he said.
“It’s been difficult,” the son said, adding that the cancer treatments have affected his father’s mobility.
Though Shibbir Chowdhury and his mother were diligent in cleaning the yard since the cancer diagnosis, the family faced challenges when the son traveled to Bangladesh for three months last year. With his parents unable to keep up on the maintenance, the grass and weeds grew out of control in front of and on the side of the house, Chowdhury said.
When the son returned home, his father informed him that they were issued a ticket on Aug. 2, 2021, for, what Krot later described as, “failing to keep the fence, walkway, sidewalk or alley free of trees, leaves” or other items. Chowdhury noted that the region’s rainy season also played a role in the vegetation getting out of control.
“It was a chain reaction,” he said. “The neighbors probably complained and took the picture that was sent to the city.”
The family cleaned up the house soon after, but Burhan Chowdhury still had to make a court appearance to see whether he would have to pay a fine. The father did not know anything about Krot, who was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Rick Snyder in 2016. She was reelected to the nonpartisan position in 2020 after running unopposed.
At around 2:45 p.m. Monday, Krot called on Chowdhury to speak. Even though English is not his first language, Chowdhury introduced himself, explaining he was a cancer patient who had become too weak to maintain the front of the home on his own.
Then, the judge pulled up a photo taken of Chowdhury’s home and expressed her disgust.
“You have got to get that cleaned up,” she told him.
After ordering him to pay the $100 fine by Feb. 1, Shibbir Chowdhury asked if she understood that his father was suffering from cancer. Krot answered his question with another question: “Have you seen that photo?”
Toward the end of the exchange, Burhan Chowdhury was heard saying, “Oh my God.”
Shibbir Chowdhury said his father didn’t understand everything what was said, but that the judge’s message was clear to him.
“She was telling my father, a sick person, that he should go to jail. That’s ridiculous,” he said. “You can’t give a 72-year-old person jail time for not cleaning an alley.”
Clips of the exchange have been viewed thousands of times on social media, as critics have defended Burhan Chowdhury and derided Krot as “very rude and unprofessional.”
“I believe you don’t even deserve to sit in that chair,” one 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 home is in good shape now, and has been in the last few months. The son has also been taken aback by the online support offered to his father over his interaction with the judge.
“People understand that a situation like this can happen with someone who is old or sick,” he said. “I’m really thankful to those in our city who have supported us and letting us know that they’re beside us.”