June 16, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Report: Troubled 36th District Court significantly improved after restructuring

Detroit —The once mismanaged and financially troubled 36th District Court has been significantly transformed and positioned for continued improvements, according to a report by the National Center for State Courts that will be released Tuesday.

Last year, the agency released a scathing report on the court’s operations citing dysfunctional management, a severe backlog of cases, a bloated payroll and poor customer service. The court also had a $5 million deficit and court officials had failed to collect $279 million in traffic tickets and other fines.

In May 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court appointed Appeals Judge Michael Talbot to oversee restructuring of the court, which handles moving traffic and city ordinance violations.

As part of his reforms, Talbot streamlined the system for processing traffic tickets, allowing suburbanites and others to pay tickets at other local district courts. Most preliminary examinations have been moved to the nearby Frank Murphy Hall of Justice and he implemented technology and computer upgrades.

Talbot said Monday he was proud of what he’s done to improve the court.

“I feel real good about it,” said Talbot. “Lawyers walk up to me to tell me how they appreciate the changes.”

Talbot said the challenge had been identifying ways to cut the budget and earning the trust of court employees that the changes he was making were for the good of the court. He said the day-to-day operations have now been turned over to 36th Chief Judge Nancy Blount.

Last month, two researchers for the National Center for State Courts visited to evaluate the changes, which also include physical improvements such as new digital billboards inside the court’s main lobby that direct citizens to the right courtrooms.

In a 22-page report on the changes and improvements, the fact-finders found the changes have lead to a new and improved court for Detroiters.

"The implementation of comprehensive reforms to the operation of the 36th District Court over the past 12 months and the court’s transformation has indeed been remarkable," reads the report. “Our review and analysis of current operations within the Court reveals a substantial, positive transformation in all of these areas. We are encouraged by what we have seen and believe the changes initiated to date provide a strong foundation for the Court in moving forward.”

The court’s collections are up. Previously, the average collection was $1.1 million a month. Now they are $1.8 million per month — a 63 percent increase. As part of the cost-cutting measures, there were staff reductions and also a 10 percent reduction in the compensation package for court employees.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. praised the changes.

“The people of Detroit deserve a well-run and efficient court system dedicated to the fair and timely administration of justice and superior service to the public," said Young in a press release Monday. "The successful transformation of the 36th District Court is a direct result of the vision, hard work and tough decisions made by Judge Mike Talbot and his new leadership team. The challenge now is for the Court's new leadership team to maintain that momentum and continue to focus on providing even better service to the public.”

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