Macomb's top judge orders clerk to handle backlog

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Macomb County Circuit Court's head judge told controversial county clerk Karen Spranger to immediately address a growing backlog of filings and processing.

Karen Spranger

He also set Thursday as a deadline to reduce the backlog of all court filings within 48 hours of them being submitted.

Earlier this week, the court's chief judge, James Biernat, sent Spranger a letter with the request.

"As of this morning, your office is behind in processing 2,822 e-filing bundles, with the oldest unprocessed bundle dated Oct. 9, 2017," Biernat wrote in the letter. "This backlog is problematic for our judges that rely on these bundles being processed timely."

Julie Bovenschen, the circuit court's administrator, said the bundles are a mix of civil cases and divorces without children cases.

The judge also requested Spranger address the backlogs in processing criminal history reports and paper court filings.

He said the clerk's office has failed to process more than 1,600 criminal history reports dating back to Aug. 2.

In addition, her office is also behind on processing paper filings going back to August, Beirnat said.  Bovenschen added thosee paper filings are both criminal and civil cases.

She also said that,  as of Thursday morning, the backlog remained unchanged. Bovenschen said the court staff would check on the number of unprocessed case filings again at the end of the day.

Biernat said in his letter that he understands Spranger's office is short-staffed, but the backlog of filings has to be addressed.

"We continue to recognize that your department is currently short-staffed and that this is interfering with your ability to perform various duties of your office," the judge said in the letter. "However, we have received information that you continue to decline or delay filing these positions, to the detriment of the court's operations."  

He also said if Spranger's office isn't able to comply with the court's request, "we will take appropriate measures to ensure the court's work is completed timely."

Biernat referred calls to Bovenschen. She said the court is discussing what those measures are with counsel. "Once we see what happens at the end of the day, we'll meet and see what our best option is," she said.

Spranger did not return a phone call to her office seeking comment.

Biernat has served as the court's chief judge since January 2016 and was re-appointed to the post on Nov. 1.

A Republican who has never held political office, Spranger upset Democratic candidate Fred Miller, a former state representative, and county commissioner, to win her post in the November 2016 election. Spranger earns $108,880 a year as Macomb County's Clerk and Register of Deeds.

Since taking office, she has been embroiled in a series of political fights.

After three months on the job, she fired her deputy clerk and another at-will employee and was subsequently sued.

She’s locked horns with the county workers' union over work rules for 85 employees she supervises and came under fire when she attempted to block the moving of her offices and workers into another building — a plan which had been in the works for months prior to her election. Her spat with the county over the move prompted it to file a lawsuit against her that was eventually settled. 

Spranger also was fined by the county Ethics Committee for violating provisions of the use of the county computer system by non-county workers.

Hours after the fined was leveled against her, Roseville police cited Spranger for a crash involving her county-issued vehicle. Police said Spranger rear-ended another car stopped at an intersection.

In June, she filed a lawsuit against Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, the county's Board of Commissioners and its Ethics Committee to have the “no firearm zone” status removed from the two buildings that house her county offices.