Mich. lawmakers looking at plan to reduce judgeships

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 21, 2011, 11:25am


LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) - Michigan's House Judiciary Committee is taking up a plan that calls for eliminating a significant number of judgeships statewide.

More than a dozen bills have been introduced in the House to address the suggested reductions in judges since the report was released in August.

On Thursday, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. testified before the judiciary committee in support of the report's recommendations.

State Court Administrator Chad C. Schmucker also testified in support, according to the committee's proposed minutes.

According to this year's Judicial Resources Recommendations report, cutting judgeships is the first step toward "rebalancing the workload" of the state's courts.

In addition to cutting 45 trial court judgeships, the report also advised reducing the number of state Court of Appeals judges from 28 to 24.

The report recommended eliminating them by attrition, meaning when a judge leaves office or dies.

The report also found that some trial courts need a combined 31 new trial court judgeships.

However, the State Court Administrative Office, which produced the report, said it would not recommend any new judgeships because of the state's economic climate.

The entire state Supreme Court has already taken a very unique step in unanimously endorsing the report's recommendations.

"The Court has historically not taken a position either way on the report's findings, so the Court's unanimous endorsement is recognition of the superior quality of the JRR," Young said in a statement in August.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, the Michigan Judges Association, the Michigan Probate Judges Association and the Michigan District Judges Association also have endorsed the findings.

Gov. Rick Snyder also is in support of the report's recommendations.

"This is unprecedented, not just in Michigan but nationally, to have a state court system not only recognize that it needs to shrink, but also have a practical plan to accomplish that goal," Young said. "And to have the universal endorsement of the judiciary's leadership -- that has never happened before."

He added, "This is an aggressive, but achievable, set of recommendations. We are unaware of any reduction of this magnitude attempted anywhere in our country."

The SCAO, the high court's administrative agency, determined each trial court's need for judges based on workload.

"We use a weighted caseload formula, so that we're not looking just at numbers of cases, but also at how much of a judge's time a particular type of case needs," Schmucker explained in August. "For example, a medical malpractice case takes longer to process than a traffic ticket. We then do an extended analysis to take into account other factors that might affect a court's workload -- population and case filings trends, for example.

"The result is the right number of judges for that court's workload and environment," he said.

Schmucker said the Court of Appeals analysis focused primarily on numbers of new case filings and opinions. The court's filings have declined over the years; from 2006 to 2010, filings fell by 22 percent, he noted.

The SCAO issues its Judicial Resources Recommendations report every two years.

While past reports have recommended reductions in the state's trial and Court of Appeals benches, those recommendations were never implemented, Young said.

"The judicial branch can only recommend; it's up to the Legislature to act, and we hope that they will act this time," the chief justice said.

"We would certainly not need to make as many reductions now if past Legislatures had heeded SCAO's findings."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

More News