Third Judicial Circuit Court v. County of Wayne Retired judge named special master to facilitate relief for Third Circuit Court

By John Minnis

Legal News

Retired Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred M. Mester has been appointed special master to facilitate relief for Wayne County Circuit Court ordered by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Peter E. Deegan.

"I am appreciative of Judge Deegan's confidence in my ability to take on this important role," Mester said. "I believe that all sides are interested in ensuring that Wayne County has the best court system possible. ... It is important that none of the parties sees this as a negative."

On Oct. 28, Deegan ordered Wayne County to provide adequate funding, personnel, facilities and technology for Wayne County Third Circuit Court. Wayne County Chief Judge Virgil Smith had sought relief after County Executive Robert Ficano ordered the clerk and sheriff to cut their staffs. The cuts would have resulted in the chief judge not being able to open the majority of the courtrooms due to lack of staff.

In his ruling, Deegan ordered the county to provide funding for an additional 110 court personnel, including 46 sheriff deputies. He also ordered the county to provide funding for the clerk to hire up to 14 contract employees to work 40 hours a week for 90 days, "or however long it takes," to catch up on its court filings.

The judge also ordered Wayne County to turn over $1 million it held in escrow for the court to complete implementation of its Odyssey case management system. He also ordered the county to fund the court's own IT department and imaging and e-filing systems.

He further ordered that the Third Circuit Court hire a judicial facility planner to "either rebuild, clean-up and secure (its) facilities... or build new court facilities" and bring all Wayne County court facilities into compliance the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Deegan ordered a three-year injunction to comply with his order and appointed a special master ---at Wayne County expense -- "to aid in accomplishing the relief outlined in this order so the citizens of Wayne County may truly have access to justice."

In his Nov. 8 appointment of Mester, Deegan ordered that the master be remunerated at $250 per hour. Wayne County was also ordered to pay an additional $30 per hour for any additional staff the master "shall reasonably employ." The county must also pay any other reasonable fees and costs incurred by the master.

Mester has 60 days to submit a budget to Deegan's court.

Judge Mester retired earlier this year from the Sixth Circuit bench in Oakland County, where he served since 1982. Prior to being appointed circuit judge by Gov. William Milliken, Mester served as Oakland County court administrator since 1975. Before going to Oakland County, he was chief of the civil division of the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Michigan

Mester was administrator at a crucial time when Oakland County went to a county executive form of government. Also during his seven years as administrator, Mester oversaw the computerization of the court system.

"The Third Circuit has 3 1/2 systems that don't talk to each other," he said. "We want to fix that."

As a court "expert" for the National Center for State Courts, Mester toured the Wayne County court facilities as part the Third Circuit lawsuit.

"I found outstanding people in the court system," he said. "The Third Circuit has an outstanding bench and staff."

Godfrey J. Dillard, lead trial counsel for Wayne County Circuit Court, was pleased with Mester's appointment as master.

"He's a well-respected jurist," Dillard said, "and he is from the tri-county area."

Dillard pointed out that Mester not only has some 30 years judicial experience, he also has experience as the Oakland County court administrator before becoming a Sixth Circuit judge.

"In Judge Mester," Dillard said, "you have a court administrator and a judge. I think Judge Mester is an excellent candidate."

Wayne County Chief Judge Smith agreed.

"Judge Mester is a respected member of the judiciary, recently retired from Oakland County," he said. "As a former court administrator and judge, he's very knowledgeable."

"My responsibility is to work with all sides in implementing the items in Judge Deegan's order and opinion," Mester said, "in order to ensure adequate access to justice for all citizens of Wayne County and to make the Third Circuit truly an exemplary court system."

Published: Fri, Nov 12, 2010