Juror Fund helps keep state's trial courts afloat

By Lynn Monson

Legal News

The state's Juror Compensation Reimbursement Fund has once again come to the rescue in providing money for trial court operations around the state.

Gov. Rick Snyder on November 30 signed legislation transferring $2.6 million from the juror fund to the state's Court Equity Fund. It is the fourth time in the last seven years that the state has used the juror fund to pad the Court Equity Fund, which provides money to trial courts in all of Michigan's 83 counties. The previous transfers were $4 million in 2005; $2.25 million in 2008; and $1.4 million in 2010.

The Juror Reimbursement Fund was established in 2003 so the state could pay back counties for an increase in the statutory minimum compensation for jurors. It has reimbursed counties a total of $14.7 million since 2007. The fund gets its revenues from fees citizens pay when clearing their driver's licenses and when demanding jury trials.

"Since its inception, revenue to the fund has consistently outpaced payouts," Snyder's office said in a press release announcing that he had signed Senate Bill 759, now Public Act 234 of 2011,

Keeping funds flowing into the Court Equity Fund is important for counties and their trial courts around the state. They received a total of about $54 million from the fund for fiscal year 2011, according to the State Court Administrative Office.

The Court Equity Fund, established in 1996, disburses money quarterly to county governments based on a formula that includes the caseload of the circuit and probate courts, along with the number of judgeships in each county. The caseload part of the formula looks at the new cases filed for the most recent three years in the circuit and probate courts in each county and compares that to the total filings for the state over the same time period.

Money for the Court Equity Fund comes from the state general fund and several sources of restricted revenue from local trial court fees and assessments. A formula determines what percentage of various fee collections go directly to the Court Equity Fund and what percentage goes to what's called the State Court Fund. Another formula for the State Court Fund determines how much it forwards to the Court Equity Fund.

Here's a breakdown of the sources for the $54 million that the Court Equity Fund distributed to counties for fiscal 2011:

* $11.4 million from the Justice System Fund, which collects money from trial courts for civil infractions, misdemeanors and felonies.

* $3.1 million from the Civil Filing Fee Fund, which, as its name says, gets money from the trial courts' civil filing fees.

* $2.2 million from Court Fee Fund, which captures money available from the Judges' Retirement System.

* $24.3 million from the State Court Fund, which is the catch-all collection of funds from the other above-mentioned funds.

* $10.4 million from the State General Fund.

* $2.6 million from the just-approved transfer of Juror Reimbursement Compensation Fund monies.

This total Court Equity Fund payout of $54 million to the 83 counties for fiscal year 2011 is expected to drop to about $50 million for 2012, according to projections from the State Court Administrative Office.

That decline is part of a longer trend in recent years. In 2006, the state distributed $65 million to the counties from the Court Equity Fund and it has dropped in each of the successive years.

As an example of what it means to the counties, in 2011 those receiving the top payouts around the state were Wayne County, $16.4 million; Oakland County, $5.4 million; Macomb County, $3.8 million; Kent County, $3.1 million; and Genesee County, $2.2 million. Under the state court projections for 2012, all county amounts would drop proportionally, with Wayne County, for example, dropping to $14.7 million for 2012.

The state's decision to again tap the surplus in the Juror Compensation Reimbursement Fund, this time for $2.6 million, fits with a trend of less demand for the juror funds in recent years.

In 2007, the state paid the various court funding units around the state about $3.6 million, according to State Court Administrative Office figures. By fiscal year 2010, it was down to $3 million.

The the top three counties receiving juror compensation reimbursement from the state in 2010 were Wayne County, $867,000; Oakland County, $314,357; and Macomb County, $220,000.

Published: Mon, Dec 12, 2011

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