I recently returned from Turkey, where I was honored to serve as a speaker at a conference celebrating the anniversary of the founding of their Court of Jurisdictional Disputes. Turkey is currently in an interesting and possibly tumultuous time in its history, with a recent election to decide whether to embark as a non-secular nation in line with its current-President’s wishes or to remain on the secular, rule-of-law path it has maintained for approximately 70 years. What follows are the (lightly edited and redacted for space) remarks I gave to the members of the Turkish Judiciary at that conference:

I have read the Turkish Constitution but wish I were a better informed student of Turkish government. Instead of attempting to address the intricacies of the Turkish Constitution today, I thought I would address something more familiar to me—America’s own experiment with the republican form of government—in hope that it may have bearing on your own experience and aspirations.

In 1787, following what we refer to as the Revolutionary War to shed Britain as our colonial ruler, prominent members of our Founding Generation from each of our 13 colonies met to determine whether they could create a national government to unify the 13 colonies that, to that point, had functioned as independent countries under British rule. Luminaries such as Dr. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were members of that effort we refer to as the Constitutional Convention.
At the conclusion of the Convention, a woman approached Dr. Ben Franklin and asked: “Well Doctor, what have we got: a republic or a monarchy? Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

Those are words everyone committed to a republican form of government must heed. As a judicial representative of the world’s longest surviving republic, I know that a republican form of government is no more than a construct. It is a commitment to a constitution so that all whom it protects are entitled to no more or less than the rule of law set forth in that document.

Even our experience with this republican form of government in the United States has been fraught with perils, with cycles of uncertainly. Colonialists shared a common language—English—and a number of British customs and values. But, unlike the nations of the world at the time, America, even in colonial times, was a nation of immigrants with no singular cohesive ethnic heritage. What our colonial forefathers shared was a commitment to the liberty of their fellow citizens to pursue their personal goals unfettered by intrusive government.

Our Founding Generation, having thrown off the yoke of British rule, was extraordinarily distrustful of power, so the national government they created was designed to limit and check federal power to preserve the liberties of its citizens. As such, the 13 colonies that cherished their individual sovereignty ceded to the federal government only enough power to protect them from foreign powers and regulate the relationships between themselves.

Thus, we have in the United States a federal government of specific and limited enumerated powers while the colonies (now states) retained sovereignty within their borders. This is the concept of “federalism.” Many foreign visitors are surprised to learn that there are 51 sovereignties in the United States—a federal government and 50 state governments, each sovereign within its own sphere.

In addition, the federal government was divided into three branches—executive, legislative and judicial—and the responsibilities of each branch was exclusive and served as a check against the other two. This is the concept of “separation of powers. (The Turkish constitution has a similar separation of powers feature.)

We in the United States, have, over the years, struggled to maintain the balance of powers spelled out in our constitution. Sometimes, the power relationships between the three branches of the federal government have shifted as has the power relationship of the states to the federal government.

For example, we fought a Civil War that challenged the power relationship between the states and the federal government. More recently, that battle rages on in litigation brought by the states against federal programs dealing with immigration and healthcare policies. But we have been fortunate in the United States that none of these power shifts has remained unchecked for long without resolution.

If I were to speculate on why this general balance of power has been maintained for over 200 years I would suggest that our citizens, like the Founding Generation, are suspicious of government power. The desire to just be left alone and unfettered by intrusive government remains a dominant character trait among our citizens—even those recently arrived in our country seem to acquire this instinct. Interestingly, this distrust of government has been coupled with an abiding commitment to the rule of law—the idea that everyone, however high or low born, is entitled to be treated the same under law—is deeply rooted in our American political culture.

So, even with such an evanescent concept as a “republican form of government,” and the tendency of government power to aggregate and corrupt, we in the United States, have managed, in Dr. Ben Franklin’s admonition, to “keep it” for more than 200 years. That is the challenge of every people who aspire to live free.


Chief Justice Recalls Dad’s Fight Against Racism

On February 18, 2015, in News Stories, by youngadmin

Shawn D. Lewis, The Detroit News

Beverly Hills – — Michigan’s highest-ranking African-American official delivered a message of determination and dignity Thursday at Detroit Country Day School, telling a crowd of fathers and sons how his father quietly battled discrimination to become a physician in Detroit.

Robert Young Jr., named alumnus of the year in 1999, was invited to return to the school for its 26th annual Father-Son Breakfast as part of its centennial celebration.

Nearly 300 dads and sons, dining on pancakes and sausage, listened to the Harvard-educated jurist reminisce about his days as a student and being the father of two grown children, as well as relating the tremendous odds his father overcame.

“My father was the quiet one in the family,” Young said. “But when he did say something, it was impactful.”

Young said his father, who died seven years ago, was one of the first African-American physicians to build his own clinic in Detroit, but wasn’t able to finance it because of discriminatory practices. “A Jewish friend bought the building and then my father had to buy it from him,” he said.

The chief justice recounted examples of the Jim Crow environment his father was subjected to while living in South Carolina in the 1920s.

“Once, as a child, my father had exhausted the books in the library for blacks, wandered into a white library and was physically thrown out,” Young said. “He had no prospects, but decided at an early age to become a physician, which was an amazing leap of faith, being part of a community that sees you as absolutely worthless.”

The chief justice’s stories resonated with John Moray and his son, Jared Pazner, 15, a freshman from Franklin.

“His perspective was very interesting,” said Moray. “When he went down South with his dad when he was a child, and saw the separate things for blacks and whites — we didn’t see things like that here as kids.”

Jared said what stayed with him was the respect Young demonstrated for his father.

“He has a very high regard for his dad and I think that’s really cool,” he said.

Ninth-grader Christopher Gilmer-Hill, 14, said he thought the chief justice’s remarks were interesting. He attended the breakfast with his father, Carl Gilmer-Hill of Beverly Hills.

“I learned a lot about what it was like for his father when he was growing up,” Christopher said.

Young said he graduated from Detroit Country Day School 45 years ago, when it was an all-boys school.

The school’s centennial anniversary officially launched on the first day of classes Sept. 1. Events still to come will be a centennial gala March 21 at the Henry Ford Museum, a weeklong “celebrate the arts” event this spring, and Community Service Month in April.

Headmaster Glen Shilling said the school is proud to count Young among its “distinguished alumni.”

“Chief Justice Young exemplifies the philosophy of Detroit Country Day School through his impressive scholarship and leadership qualities, drive to achieve and longstanding commitment to community,” he said.

Published by the Detroit News, February 12, 2015.


LANSING, MI, February 27, 2013 – Hon. David F. Viviano, appointed to the Supreme Court today by Governor Rick Snyder, is “a man of unimpeachable integrity, an exceptional trial judge, and a recognized leader on the bench,” Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. said today, reacting to Viviano’s appointment to the Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Snyder. “He is a welcome and wonderful addition to this Court.”

Young added, “Justice Viviano is uncommonly bright and learned in the law. But it is not his legal ability alone that makes him an outstanding jurist. He also knows that the role of judges is to interpret the laws, not to make them. He understands the deference due to the legislature as the body that expresses the will of the people through legislation. He is committed to following the rule of law wherever it leads him.”

Viviano, who has served as chief judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit and Macomb County Probate courts for the past two years, also brings a “forward-thinking perspective to this Court, demonstrating the kind of innovation that is so critical to the future of our justice system,” Young added. “My fellow justices and I entrusted then-Judge Viviano with the oversight of one of the largest and busiest circuit courts in the state, because my fellow justices and I had confidence in his abilities and leadership, and he did not disappoint.”

In 2012, Viviano was among those honored, along with the Michigan Supreme Court, with the G. Thomas Munsterman Award for Jury Innovation by the National Center for State Courts. Viviano and 11 other judges were selected by the Supreme Court to test a comprehensive package of jury reforms in a 2010-2011 pilot project; the Supreme Court adopted many of the reforms in September 2011. Viviano also headed the 16th Circuit’s e-filing project and advocated for other technological improvements to court services.“

Justice Viviano’s experience will help the courts use evidence-based practices to improve public service,” Young stated. “As a branch, we will be using performance measurement and technology to make the courts more responsive and efficient. Justice Viviano’s knowledge and perspective will be invaluable as we continue these efforts.”

Before being elected to the 16th Circuit Court in 2006, Viviano was in private practice with the law firm of Viviano & Viviano, PLLC and also served as city attorney for the city of Center Line. He previously practiced law with Dickinson Wright PLLC in Detroit and Jenner & Block LLC in Chicago. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Hillsdale College; he earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

Michigan Supreme Court
Office of Public Information

Michigan Holds 10th Annual Adoption Day

On November 22, 2012, in News Stories, Newsroom, by youngadmin

Just in time for the holidays, kids are getting the chance of a lifetime: to be adopted. Four Michigan foster children were adopted throughout the state Tuesday.

The chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court is joining other judges in approving adoptions as part the state’s annual adoption day.

33 counties have scheduled adoption day events, many of them on Tuesday. Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. is finalizing some adoptions at the Supreme Court in Lansing, along with judges from Marquette and Saginaw.

Young hopes the public will be inspired to consider adoption or at least understand the needs of children who remain in foster care. More than 2,500 kids in foster care were adopted in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Another 3,000 are hoping to be adopted.

Maura Corrigan, the head of the Department of Human Services, says all children deserve a stable home.

Some kicked off ‘Adoption Day’ early down in Jackson last week. 10 children were adopted last Friday.


November 20, 2012

Photo gallery and video available at: http://www.wlns.com/story/20147563/michigan-holds-10th-annual-adoption-day


State Supreme Court Turns Focus to Adoption

On November 22, 2012, in News Stories, Newsroom, by youngadmin

The Michigan Supreme Court took a time away from cases Tuesday to focus on finding loving homes for deserving children. About 3,000 children are in foster care right now, waiting for permanent homes.

The court says that’s too many and it’s hoping the state’s Adoption Day will change that.

Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said it was a morning in court, unlike any other.

“We don’t see a lot of smiles, we certainly don’t hear a lot of applause and cheers and hugs,” Young said.

A morning, where the parties came to unify not debate. There wer no briefs, no oral arguments, only open arms and open hearts.

“It really changes your perspective on life, it’s not about you it’s about what you can do and provide for him,” Marie Carter, said of her adopted 4-year-old, Zen.

Carter and her husband Tom joined a number of families making it official before the Supreme Court. Zen is now family.

Carter says that means the world. “It’s Thanksgiving this week, so we have a lot to be thankful for,” she said.

The court ceremonies are usually private, but the court wanted to call attention to the gift of family and the great need for loving homes.

“It’s essential to a sense of well being to feel that you belong somewhere, that you are permanently associated with a family,” Young explained.

“It’s a gigantic commitment and it’s difficult sometimes, but it’s one of the most important things you can do,” Marquette County Judge Michael Anderegg said.

Lansing wasn’t the only city in the state to host Adoption Day events, 33 counties celebrated finalized adoptions and offered information on the process.

Carter hopes more will consider it.

“My husband and I have been trying to conceive for many years and haven’t been able to,” she explained. “I never thought it would be possible to be as connected as I am to another child outside of myself… it is. So my advice is, absolutely.”

The Department of Human Services says the need for homes is significant, but the state is making progress. More than 2,500 adoptions were completed in fiscal year 2012.

Video available at: http://www.wilx.com/home/headlines/State-Supreme-Court-Turns-Focus-to-Adoption-180245761.html

WILX – 10

November 20, 2012

Reporter: Lindsay Veremis


By John Agar – mlive.com

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Fruitport Township police seized Kurtis Ray Minch’s 87 firearms after he was accused of holding a handgun – it was actually a starting pistol – to his girlfriend’s head and pulled the trigger.

All but one of his firearms, a short-barrel shotgun, was legal.

After he pleaded guilty to illegal possession of the shotgun and felonious use of a firearm, he asked that his legal firearms be given to his mother. But Muskegon County prosecutors argued that doing so would violate state law that prohibits felons from possessing, selling or distributing a firearm.

The state Court of Appeals agreed with a Muskegon County Circuit Court judge, who ordered the guns turned over to Minch’s mother.

On Thursday, Oct. 25, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments as 200 area high school students, taking part in a “We the People” curriculum, and local judges and attorneys, watched at Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

The traveling jurists – based in the Hall of Justice in Lansing – visit others cities periodically as part of “Court Community Connections.”

The idea is to give students and others an “inside look” at the appellate process, Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said.

“A Supreme Court decision in one case can have an impact on people’s lives for years to come,” he said.

The students came from Comstock Park, East Grand Rapids, East Kentwood, and Potter’s House schools.

Sally Marsh, 16, and Tyler Larabel, 17, both East Grand Rapids students, have been studying the U.S. Constitution and working with attorneys as part of their class work.

“It was cool to see what we read about in text books in class,” Marsh said.

Larabel said he was interested in arguments over Constitutional issues. In particular, due process was argued throughout the case. He said students had been briefed on the case, which helped students as they heard the legal arguments.

They also knew that hearings in appellate courts differ from trial courts.

Appellate judges pepper attorneys with questions.

Young asked Charles Justian, the chief appellate attorney in Muskegon County, why Minch’s mother shouldn’t get the guns.

Young said: “The court order says the guns should be delivered to the mother. That’s how she gets them.”

Justian argued that Minch couldn’t legally deliver the guns to his mother because the law prohibits Minch from doing anything with the guns.

Minch’s attorney, Kevin Wistrom, said the Muskegon County judge’s earlier order should be enough for the guns to be turned over to Minch’s mother.

He added that his client’s due-process rights would be violated if police kept his guns without forfeiture hearings.

After the judges left, the attorneys answered students’ questions.

Justian said: “This is a situation where the Legislature should probably be called on to address it.”

The Supreme Court will issue a written opinion as it does in other cases. It will likely take several months, a court spokeswoman said.

Kent County Circuit judges Donald Johnston and Paul Sullivan invited the Supreme Court to Grand Rapids. They said local bar association members prepared students for the oral arguments, and provided background materials.

Published by mlive.com on October 25, 2012

A photo gallery of the events appears here: Students witness Michigan Supreme Court at Ford Museum 10/25/12


National Center for State Courts praises Michigan Supreme Court, pilot project judges for “sustained and comprehensive commitment to enhancing jury service”

LANSING, MI, September 12, 2012 – Michigan’s comprehensive jury reforms, and the Michigan trial court judges who tested them, are being honored along with the Michigan Supreme Court by the National Center for State Courts, the NCSC announced today.

The Supreme Court and 12 trial judges are the recipients of the 2012 G. Thomas Munsterman Award for Jury Innovation, given annually by the NCSC to recognize significant improvements or innovations for juries, NCSC President Mary C. McQueen said.

“Michigan’s jury reform pilot project demonstrated a sustained and comprehensive commitment to enhancing jury service through thorough testing of in-court reforms and revisions of procedural rules,” said McQueen.

NCSC Vice President and General Counsel Robert Baldwin will present the award to the Court and pilot project judges following the Court’s first oral argument on October 9. The ceremony will take place at 10:45 a.m. in the old Supreme Court courtroom in the state Capitol building.

Effective September 1, 2011, the Michigan Supreme Court adopted a comprehensive package of jury reform court rule amendments, despite initial and intense opposition from some Michigan attorneys and judges who feared the changes, Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr., explained. Before adopting the rules, the Court conducted a two-year pilot project in which 12 judges tested proposed reforms in actual trials and reported on their experiences. The Court also surveyed jurors, who strongly favored the reforms, such as permitting jurors to take notes, submit questions for witnesses in both civil and criminal cases, and discuss the evidence among themselves before final deliberations.

“These wide-ranging reforms allow jurors to be more truly involved in the fact-finding process – and, as a result, to make better-informed decisions,” Young said.

The Court’s jury reform effort began in 2005 when then-Chief Justice Clifford W. Taylor asked Justice Stephen J. Markman to review jury reform practices in other states and to propose rules for Michigan courts. After intensive study, the Court published a series of proposed rule changes for public comment in July 2005.

Reaction from Michigan’s legal community was swift – and largely negative, Young noted. “While non-lawyers favored the reforms, lawyers and judges generally did not,” he said. Despite this opposition, the Court did not abandon the reforms, but instead authorized the 2009-2010 pilot project that led to the rules’ adoption, he explained.

“Initially, some of the pilot project judges were very skeptical about these rule changes,” Young said. “By the end of the project, they had become converts and the most enthusiastic voices in favor of changing the rules. The pilot project judges displayed great courage, not only in testing these unfamiliar procedures, but also in becoming advocates for reform.”

The pilot project judges include

• Judge Thomas P. Boyd, 55th District Court, Mason, Ingham County

• Judge William J. Caprathe (retired) and Judge Kenneth W. Schmidt, 18th Circuit Court, Bay County

• Judge Richard J. Celello, 41st Circuit Court, Dickinson/Iron/Menominee counties

• Judge Beth Gibson, 92nd District Court, Newberry, Luce/Mackinac counties

• Judge Timothy G. Hicks, 14th Circuit Court, Muskegon County

• Judge Richard W. May, 90th District Court, Charlevoix/Emmet counties

• Judge Wendy L. Potts, 6th Circuit Court, Oakland County

• Judge Donald L. Sanderson, 2B District Court, Hillsdale County

• Judge Paul E. Stutesman, 45th Circuit Court, St. Joseph County

• Judge David Viviano, 16th Circuit Court, Macomb County

• Judge Peter J. Wadel, Lake County Trial Court/79th District Court, Ludington

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Virginia, is a nonprofit court reform organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts.

Michigan jury reform overview

• In civil cases, the judge “may instruct the jurors that they are permitted to discuss the evidence among themselves in the jury room during trial recesses.”

• Jurors can, with the judge’s permission, submit questions to witnesses through the judge. Criminal procedure court rules already contained such a provision, but the new rule includes jurors in civil cases as well.

• Jurors can, if permitted by the judge, take notes during trial; if the judge allows note taking, jurors must be allowed to use those notes during the jury’s deliberations.

• The jury can request to view “property or … a place where a material event [such as a crime scene] occurred.”

• After the jury is sworn, the judge “shall provide the jury with pretrial instructions reasonably likely to assist in its consideration of the case,” covering “the duties of the jury, trial, procedure, and the law applicable to the case ….” The rule also requires the court to give jurors copies of the instructions.

• The judge may “authorize or require” attorneys to provide jurors with “a reference document or notebook,” which would include a list of witnesses, relevant provisions in statutes, and copies of any documents at issue, such as a contract. Other items, such as preliminary jury instructions, trial exhibits, “and other admissible information,” can also be added to the notebook.

• Where it is appears likely that a deposition will be read to the jury, the judge “should encourage the parties to prepare concise, written summaries of depositions” for the jury instead of having the full deposition read aloud.

• In addition to making opening and closing statements, attorneys may, “in the court’s discretion, present interim commentary at appropriate junctures of the trial.”

• Judges may “fairly and impartially sum up the evidence” after closing arguments, while also reminding jurors that they must decide fact issues for themselves. The rule bars judges from commenting on a witness’s credibility or stating a conclusion “on the ultimate issue of fact before the jury.”

• Judges are required to give the jury a copy of the final jury instructions to take into the jury room for final deliberations. In addition, judges must invite jurors to ask any questions they may have to clarify the instructions.

• In addition to jurors’ notes and final jury instructions, the judge “may permit the jurors to take into the jury room the reference document … as well as any exhibits and writings admitted into evidence.”

• The judge “may not refuse a reasonable request” from jurors to review evidence or testimony as they deliberate.

• If the jury appears to reach an impasse during deliberations, the judge “may invite the jurors to list the issues that divide or confuse them in the event that the judge can be of assistance in clarifying or amplifying the final instructions.”

• The court can schedule expert testimony to assist jurors’ understanding of the issues – for example, by having expert witnesses testify sequentially. Another option is to allow each expert to be present for the opposing expert’s testimony, so that the expert can “aid counsel in formulating questions to be asked of the testifying expert on cross-examination.”

For the complete text of these rules, see http://www.courts.michigan.gov/supremecourt/Resources/Administrative/2005-19_06-29-11_order.pdf.

Michigan Supreme Court Public Information Office
September 12, 2012


When judges become partisan players, the People’s rights will perish.

Beware of judges who tell you how they will rule on cases. They are almost never rule of law judges, because rule of law judges must follow the law, not their personal policy preferences. Those folks who can tell you whether a legal decision is good or bad without reading it are not constitutional conservatives because their policy preferences are not dictated by the law.

For nearly 15 years, I have stood firmly and proudly as a member of a Rule of Law Supreme Court majority that established a judicial system that respects the rights of the People in a self-governing constitutional republic. Our decisions have consistently enforced the right of the People, not judges, to make their own policy choices. This principle applies to the People’s legislative policy choices, their contractual choices and, most important, to the constitutional policies they have enshrined in our constitution.

The People of Michigan have specifically preserved to themselves the right directly to control their government through policies advanced in ballot initiatives and referenda. It is the constitutional obligation of judges to respect this constitutional right, not thwart it.

Those who opposed the People’s right to control their government by ballot proposals were just as adamant that the People not be given an opportunity to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman (2004) and to prevent government sanctioned racial and gender discrimination (2006). They failed. Both of these controversial initiatives were properly placed on the ballot because they complied with all of the ballot petition rules. The voters got to decide on their merits.

Again, the People have proposed a number of constitutional amendments for consideration at the November general election.

As before, opponents of those proposals launched legal challenges to keep them off the ballot. Some critics of the proposals have asserted that the Court should have kept them off the ballot because they were “bad policy.” This isn’t the Court’s function in a constitutional republic. Whether a policy is good or not is a question that the people or the people’s representatives must decide. Our job was to determine whether the proposals complied with the law that establishes the ground rules for voter initiated petitions.

Therefore, on Wednesday, the same Rule of Law majority – that has always striven to follow the law – respected the People’s right of self-governance and ordered those ballot proposals that complied with the republication requirements to be placed on the ballot. As our constitution requires, the People of this State will decide in November whether these proposals should be adopted.

While some may question the wisdom of one or more of these ballot proposals, one cannot, consistent with the principles of a constitutional government, permit or encourage judges to negate the People’s right to decide those policy questions where the proponents have complied with the laws to place them on the ballot.

Chief Justice Bob Young


By Chris Bonneau

The Detroit News, June 19, 2012

Recently the Judicial Selection Task Force testified before the Michigan Legislature on its recent report, which makes several recommendations regarding judicial selection. The most troubling aspect of the report is that the majority of the committee favors, though does not formally recommend, eliminating judicial elections.

Over the last year, a national debate has been brewing over how states select their Supreme Court justices. This debate is not unfamiliar to Michigan, where the people directly elect their judges. Nor is this sudden interest in judicial selection a coincidence.

Several powerful figures have recently coordinated to oppose judicial elections, including the American Bar Association, the American Judicature Society and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who serves as the honorary chair of the Judicial Selection Task Force in Michigan. They tout the commission-based method, “the Missouri Plan,” as an alternative to the partisanship of judicial elections.

But to assume that it eliminates politics or results in a more balanced judiciary is erroneous.

Political scientists have studied judicial elections for quite some time, and plenty of empirical evidence to quantify the impact of elections is available. After going through that data, I have found the following:

Elections do not prompt voters to view judicial institutions as less legitimate. From 2008-09, professor James Gibson of Washington University conducted a series of survey experiments and found that while legitimacy concerns may be raised by particular campaigns, those concerns are not raised when candidates engage in policy talk, negative ads or other ordinary incidents of a judicial race.

There is no discernible difference in quality between judges who are elected and those who are appointed. Recently, law professors Stephen Choi, Mitu Gulati and Eric Posner found that there was no difference between elected judges and appointed judges in terms of quality and output of opinions. They also found that elected judges are no less independent than appointed judges.

Though the authors of the study were cautious in interpreting their findings, any fair reading suggests that elected judges are at least equal to appointed judges in quality and independence.

Campaign spending is key to providing voters with a meaningful choice. Despite the many criticisms of campaign spending, my research has shown that the more money challengers spend trying to unseat an incumbent, the better they perform with the electorate. Limiting campaign spending with strict campaign finance laws also limits competition and increases the advantage of incumbency.

The Michigan Supreme Court plays a very important role in the lives of Michiganians, impacting everything from property rights and business transactions to criminal policy and traditional family policy. So it is extremely important that voters trust that their judges are adhering to the rule of law.

To suggest that elections are unable to deliver a fair court is just not supported by the data. Michigan’s justices and judicial candidates face incentives to be more open, transparent and accountable than if they were being selected behind closed doors by an unelected and unaccountable nominating commission, where special interests and political insiders would dominate.

Chris Bonneau is a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh.


Courts rightly required to be user-friendly

On April 24, 2012, in Editorials, Newsroom, by youngadmin

New standards hold courts accountable for being accessible, moving cases promptly

The Detroit News

Chief Justice Robert Young

Michigan’s court system is clearly part of the reinvention of state government that is now under way. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. is driving the courts toward change that appropriately emphasizes efficiency, transparency and — most of all — providing good service to the folks whose tax dollars support it.

These ideals are hardly revolutionary in other sectors, but let’s face it, the courts long have had an image of stodginess, obscurity and resistance to change. As Young noted in the just-released Michigan Supreme Court annual report for 2011, judges and courts often have stuck with traditions that keep them doing things in comfortable ways that don’t always best serve the public.

The most-noted evidence that the court system is on board with the reform agenda is legislation now passed and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder that over time will eliminate 36 trial court judgeships. That’s based on leadership from the State Court Administrative Office, the administrative arm of the high court, which last year recommended slashing even more judgeships — 45 — along with four Michigan Court of Appeals seats because of a declining population and court load.

That’s an important sign it’s a new day here. Lawmakers had added 30 posts to the judiciary going back to 1989 and, in the past had resisted proposed cutbacks. The reductions will save an average of $140,000 in pay per judgeship and around $6 million a year overall.

The wisdom of these moves is illustrated in the new annual report, which shows that cases continue to decline in every category and at each court level. For example, in district courts, the lowest and busiest level, the number of cases declined to 2.6 million, a drop of 200,000 from 2010 and more than 700,000 below the high of 3.35 million in 2003. Last year, there were 55,435 criminal cases, down from 58,325 in 2010. According to the report, the State Court Administrative Office also is continuing to push circuit, probate and district courts toward concurrent jurisdiction plans in which a judge from one type of court can be assigned to another court, as needed. These courts also share administrative functions.

The judiciary also is streamlining through technology. Courts increasingly are receiving and sharing files electronically, using videoconferencing to conduct hearings and accepting payment of tickets online.

More importantly as far as citizens are concerned, the courts are being held to efficiency goals and pretty much meeting them.

The goal for divorces and domestic relations cases, for example, is resolution within 364 days. According to the report, that target was met in 91 percent of all cases during 2011.

Ninety-six percent of circuit court felony cases were adjudicated within 301 days — important because studies have shown that swift, certain justice is a key crime deterrent.

Quality of justice is hard to measure, Chief Justice Young says, but it is possible to keep track of such factors as the length of time it takes to complete cases; or how often potential jurors are summoned, only to sit waiting all day and finally be sent home unused.

Performance measures, common among businesses in the private sector, now are coming to the courts. That’s a necessary and welcome change.