State to cut judgeships in Detroit, Oakland

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city's 36th District Court is losing a judge as part of the State Court Administrative Office's biennial state court restructuring.

The 52nd District Court, which has divisions in Novi, Clarkston, Rochester Hills, and Troy, will also lose a judge. Circuit courts in Oakland and Macomb counties will gain a judge.

Chief Judge Nancy Blount of 36th District Court said she is not happy to lose a judge's seat in the city's once-troubled court. The court has 29 judges and four magistrates.

“The Court does not agree with the recommendation to reduce the judgeships by one,” Blount said.

The National Center for State Courts reported in 2013 the Detroit court had 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.

Since then, the Michigan Supreme Court appointed a Court of Appeals judge to oversee restructuring the court.

The State Court Administrative Office has approved reducing 45 judge positions in courthouses across the state starting in 2011. Twenty-five of the seats have been eliminated, resulting in $6.1 million in savings over the past four years. The latest recommendations, which include eliminating judgeships in seven additional courthouses including Monroe County, is expected to add up to $7.4 million in total savings.

Taxpayers are expected to save $200 million once the changes are put in place, State Court Administrative Office spokesman John Nevin said.

The report, done every other year, evaluates changes in judicial workloads and recommends the most effective number of trial court and Court of Appeals judges around the state.

That decision on eliminating a 52nd District judge, Nevin said, will "either be specified by the Legislature when they act on the recommendation or it may just be the first judge in that district to retire would not be replaced."

Other judges will be eliminated in the district court that serves Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties and courts in Berrien and Delta counties. Ingham, Monroe, St. Clair and Saginaw counties each will lose one Probate Court judge.

The 44th District Court in Royal Oak will add another judge as will the 6th Circuit based in Pontiac in Oakland County and the 16th Circuit based in Mount Clemens in Macomb County.

The recommendations must be approved by the Michigan Legislature before changes can be made. State lawmakers will get the recommendations Thursday to review, Nevin said.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. said: "Our goal is to be the most efficient and responsible steward of public resources.

"We ... determined we are too big. We are trying to do what you would do if you had to pay for it out of your pocket instead of the taxpayers'. The government should cost taxpayers no more."

Young added the cuts should not affect customer service.

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