Michigan can survive with fewer judges, Chief Justice says

John O'Brien Apr. 1, 2008, 1:41pm


LANSING, Mich. - Michigan's court system appears to be keeping up with its caseload, according to figures released Monday in its annual report.

Things went so well in 2007, in fact, that state Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor touched on the issue of downsizing. Taylor cited an August report from the State Court Administrative Office's Judicial Resources Recommendations Report that said the state could survive with 10 fewer trial judgeships and four fewer Court of Appeals judges.

"A majority of the Supreme Court not only supported those recommendations, but went further in recommending that the Legislature eliminate by attrition 20 trial court judgeships, which represented, with the Court of Appeals reductions, a savings of millions of taxpayer dollars," Taylor wrote.

"The surrounding debate may have generated more heat than light, and as of the date of my writing this, no action has been taken to eliminate any judgeships, now or in the future."

Only the Legislature, with the approval of the Governor, can reduce the number of state judgeships.

"There is much talk about streamlining state government, but we need genuine efforts in that
direction," Taylor wrote. "Otherwise, we deserve the rebuke Abigail Adams aimed at an earlier age: 'We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.'"

The state's economic prospects, harmed by the downfall of the automobile industry, is another reason Taylor sees a need for change. Changes midway through fiscal year 2007 resulted in the state's judiciary operating with 4.5 percent less money than it was slated to when the budget was laid out.

Meanwhile, the cases went out almost at the exact same rate they came in.

The Supreme Court saw 2,612 new filings in 2007, the most in five years. The Court disposed of 2,625.

The Court of Appeals received 7,590 new filings and disposed of 7,543, while circuit courts had a more than 100-percent clearance rate. District courts disposed of 99.1 percent, and probate courts boasted a disposition rate of 97.3.

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