Judicial Resources Recommendations released

By Thomas Franz
BridgeTower Media Newswires

The State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) of the Michigan Supreme Court has released its biennial Judicial Resources Recommendations, and it is suggesting a net removal of two judgeships across the state.

That total makes 2017 a quieter year than most for changes from the resources report.

"We took a very conservative approach to adding or subtracting judges. It's not an exact science," said Milton J. Mack Jr., state court administrator. "The last study was several years ago, and as time passes it becomes less reliable."

Methodology

In order to come up with its recommendations, the SCAO utilizes a two-step process to determine how to allocate resources to courts throughout the state.

First, the study looks at a quantitative assessment that includes a weighted caseload formula to identify potential changes. Case weights are determined by the time needed to process a case. For example, a traffic ticket case would have a much lower case weight than a felony.

In the formula, case weights are multiplied by the average number of annual new case filings over the past three years and the percentage of the case weight workload that is handled by a judge. Those figures are divided by the average amount of time available to an individual judge each year for case-related activity. That equation provides the number of judges needed in a given area.

"Every two years we bring some judges together to advise us on whether or not the case weights are correct or need to be adjusted, and we've done that a couple times," Mack said. "We did it this time. We brought in four groups of 10 judges to address several case types, and this resulted in some pretty dramatic changes to the case weights."

At this point in the process of the study, the SCAO pinpointed 16 courts for the second half of analysis, the qualitative study.

That portion factors in population trends, travel time, staffing and demographics, among several other factors.

After factoring in those items, the SCAO recommended that changes be made to eight courts throughout Michigan.

"I call it a kinder and gentler JRR," Mack said. "We want to be careful that we don't give a court more resources than it really needs, or that we reduce resources where they're necessary. We're not going to cut a judgeship in a court that would leave the public short on judicial resources."

Where are the changes?

In total, the SCAO is recommending that the state Legislature eliminate four trial court positions through attrition, reverse two trial court judgeships that were previously recommended for elimination, convert a district judgeship to a circuit judgeship, and allow two sets of district courts to merge.

The study recommends eliminating two judgeships at the 36th District Court in Detroit, one circuit judgeship in Saginaw County, and one district judgeship in Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties.

For reversals, the 44th District Court in Royal Oak and Berkley will no longer be recommended for a judgeship elimination, and the same is true for a circuit judgeship for Clinton and Gratiot counties.

In Livingston County, the study recommends that the 53rd District Court loses one judgeship, but the 44th Circuit Court gains one.

The SCAO is recommending that the 18th District Court in Westland and the 29th District Court in Wayne merge and retain three judgeships. It is also suggesting that the 38th District Court in Eastpointe and the 39th District Court in Roseville and Fraser merge and retain four judgeships.

"They didn't make too many recommendations this time around. I just assumed it was because we're a lot closer to where we should be as opposed to a few years ago," said Judge William G. Kelly of the 62-B District Court in Kentwood.

Kelly has been involved with this study for several years, initially was against the SCAO study in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but has since changed his opinion on it due to changes in the formula along the way.

"In the process, we can determine how to use resources much more efficiently than just saying we've always had a certain number of judges in a given court so we should keep it that way, because the caseload may be changing in a certain court," Kelly said. "By using a weighted caseload, I think it's much more accurate. That's why I support this method, and they don't just look at the numbers themselves."

The report details that the salary for a district judge is $139,654, and $141,318 for a circuit or probate judge. Local costs vary by community.

Based on recommendations made in 2011 and 2013, the report states that 31 judgeships have already been eliminated statewide, creating a savings of $19.5 million since 2011.

Published: Mon, Jul 31, 2017

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