Detroit News: Trim Unneeded State Judgeships

On August 19, 2011, in Editorials, by youngadmin

State judges come up with responsible plan for downsizing court seats

The Detroit News

Published August 18, 2011

Michigan’s court system is saying it should be downsized. The court system’s administrative arm has come up with a recommendation that 45 trial court judgeships and four seats on the state Court of Appeals be eliminated. Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young has said the various state judges’ associations all agree on the findings. Such agreement is rare and should prompt legislative action.

As Young noted, the court system can only make recommendations to the Legislature about the number of judgeships; state lawmakers have to actually pass legislation to make the cuts.

The full picture is that there is an imbalance in the assignment of judges. While the State Court Administrative Office found — based on caseload studies — that 45 judgeships could be eliminated, there is a shortage of about 31 judges in other jurisdictions. However, given the financial condition of both state and local government, the administrative office is not recommending the creation of new slots for judges.

And in fact, the administrative agency and the judges themselves note that with changes in the law so that different judges can hear more kinds of cases, and with the proper use of technology, all of the new judgeships won’t have to be created.

Chief Wayne Probate Judge Milton Mack, a member of a committee looking at judgeships, in a Detroit News column written as the new evaluation process was beginning earlier this year, suggested that neighborhood district court judges could be empowered to appoint guardians for children in some cases, avoiding a trip to the county seat and the local probate court.

Investments in technology have allowed his court to shed more than 40 employees over the past decade while improving service, Mack said.

The administrative office’s Judicial Resources Report analysis notes that statewide, new case filings decreased in both trial and appellate courts over the last several years.

Elimination of all 49 judgeships could eventually lead to an estimated annual savings of more than $7 million in state and local expenses. The state pays a judge’s salary, but local jurisdictions cover pay and benefits for judicial secretaries, clerks and other aides.

The savings wouldn’t occur immediately. The plan is to eliminate the court positions by attrition when the judges leave the bench or retire. But having the plan outlined in law would preserve the savings when the opportunity arises. Governors sometimes want to reward their friends, and a judicial appointment is handsome way to do so.

As Young noted, it isn’t often that a branch of government suggests that it be shrunk, and then comes up with its own plan for making it happen.

State legislators should act quickly to take the judges up on their recommendations.

Original article available at: http://www.detnews.com/article/20110818/OPINION01/108180338/1008/OPINION01/Editorial–Trim-unneeded-state-judgeships