Mich. SC endorses cutting judgeships

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 22, 2011


LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) - Michigan must eliminate 45 trial court judgeships as a first step toward "rebalancing the workload" of the state's courts, according to an annual judicial report released last week.

This year's Judicial Resources Recommendations report also advises reducing the number of state Court of Appeals judges from 28 to 24.

The report recommends eliminating those unneeded judgeships by attrition, when a judge leaves office or dies.

The report, which was released Wednesday, also finds that some trial courts need a combined 31 new trial court judgeships.

However, the State Court Administrative Office, which produced the report, said it was not recommending any new judgeships at this time because of the state's economic climate.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. said the Court unanimously endorsed 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," he said in a statement.

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

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

"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."

State Court Administrator Chad C. Schmucker said the SCAO 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," he explained. "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, the Supreme Court's administrative agency, 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," he 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.

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