By Frank Weir
State Bar of Michigan Executive Director Janet Welch provided a state bar update at a recent bench-bar conference in Washtenaw County.
Welch summarized the SBM’s Judicial Crossroads Task Force which consists of four committees and is designed to make recommendations to legislators that will help define the future of the practice of law in the state.
The committees include: Technology, Access to Justice, Court Structure and Resources, and Business Impact.
“Michigan is in the process of transformation, a very painful transformation,” Welch began.
“It’s going to be a long process and will change the face of state government and we want to figure out how to protect the judicial branch and the court system.
“The mission of the entire task force is to figure out how to preserve what the legal profession in our state has now and advance it knowing that resources are just not going to be there.”
She noted, by example, that if the Access to Justice committee of the task force was not studying indigent defense reform and the problem of unrepresented individuals in the court system, the state “might slip into making changes in our court system that would make the system worse when we know that the population will be growing poorer and older and will be needing more court services than they do now.”
Welch said final recommendations from the task force will be compiled for presentation to legislators by late August or early September.
She summarized the work of each committee:
• Technology — “To me, the Technology committee has some obvious things to say. It makes no sense to have a system where courts don’t talk to each other and don’t have a collection of data that is reliable and comprehensive.
“It makes no sense to not look toward a system with efiling when that can save a lot of money. We need to implement a system that improves technology in all the court systems so that, for one thing, we know what we are doing; we aren’t driving in the dark as we make changes and move forward.”
• Access to Justice — “This committee at one point had 216 recommendations which is now down to 110. And many of them are responsive to the charge: ‘Don’t just tell us about programs that cost money, tell us about things that will provide resources without costing a lot of money.’
“Many of the committee’s recommendations fall into this category.”
• Structures and Resources — “This committee is preparing recommendations that look at the distribution of judges and help our court system be more coordinated in the delivery of services with less duplication. In some areas of the state, the distribution of judges does not match the caseload there.
“Judicial distribution can be changed by attrition so we have judge where we need them and achieve savings by lowering the number of judges where we don’t need them. We want to have a conversation with the legislature about being responsive to changing needs.
“Many of you here in this county have been at the center of making courts in the county more efficient and have tried some things that haven’t worked and some that have. That expertise, represented by
“It is composed entirely of judges.”
• Business Impact — “The committee is focusing on the advantages of having one or two judges in a county that would just do business-related cases.
“Every state that has tried a business court or docket has not only continued it but has expanded it. We think this recommendation will prove popular and will be a permanent feature going forward.”
“If the final recommendations are not at least a little provocative, we will have failed,” Welch said.
“Michigan is facing a situation that demands that we be creative and think differently. The reform of a court system is really difficult and many states have tried to reform theirs and have failed.
“I am grateful to the lawyers and judges in our state who have said now is the time.”
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