Reformed 36th District Court to return to local control
Detroit – — The once-troubled 36th District Court will officially return to local control Thursday after a restructuring that balanced the budget and improved customer service.
The Michigan Supreme Court appointed Appellate Judge Michael Talbot in May 2013 as special judicial administrator after a feasibility report concluded the city court, one of the largest and busiest in the country, was mismanaged and had a major backlog of roughly 500,000 cases a year.
The report issued by the National Center for State Courts also concluded the court had a bloated payroll, poor customer service and was $5 million over its $31 million annual budget, and court officials had failed to collect $279 million in traffic tickets and other fines.
Last April, the court held a month-long ticket amnesty program which allowed 58,000 people to pay old traffic tickets and fines. The program brought in $2 million.
Talbot implemented many reforms at the court including opening more courtrooms, assigning judges to specific dockets, expanding magistrate duties, moving most preliminary examinations to the nearby Frank Murphy Hall of Justice and technology and computer upgrades.
To improve customer service, the court installed monitors in the courthouse's lobby which list litigants and their assigned courtrooms. The court also streamlined the system for processing traffic tickets which allows suburbanites and others to pay fines at other local district courts.
"I'm proud of the results and of everyone who works in this courthouse," Talbot said in a press release Wednesday. "They had to make a lot of sacrifices, yet they produced a turned-around court. That's heroic."
Although the court, which is funded by the city of Detroit, is operated by the state many Detroit residents saw the appointment of Talbot to oversee the court as another form of a state takeover of city institutions. Emergency managers run the city and school district, a regional authority is being proposed for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Cobo Center is run by a regional board and the state recently took over Belle Isle.
Talbot will officially turn over control of the court to Chief Judge Nancy Blount at 10:30 a.m. Thursday when he will also officially release the 31-page final report documenting some of its changes.
Blount said the changes at the courthouse, which hears traffic and city ordinance violations, were necessary to ensure the court's operations.
"A smoothly functioning judiciary is a critical layer of the foundation of a thriving city," Blount said. "The citizens of the city, the lawyers and other users of the court as well as our employees deserve a better court, and we are committed to continue our transformation."
The judicial order which appointed Talbot was rescinded Wednesday, but several critical benchmarks will be put in place through an administrative order to make sure the changes to improve customer service remain in place.
"I commend Judge Talbot and Chief Judge Blount for driving change to improve service to the public," Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. said. "Thanks are due to the entire team at the 36th District Court for their hard work and commitment to giving the people of Detroit an efficient, well-run court that treats everyone with dignity and respect."
Appointing Talbot to oversee the court was only the second time in history the Michigan Supreme Court took full control of a local court.
Other key accomplishments, cited by Talbot, include:
■Improved fiscal accountability by balancing the budget, cutting costs, renegotiating union contracts and capping health care costs.
■Management reforms through improved communication with judges and staff, recruitment of new and experienced managers and building bridges with community leaders to explain the changes at the court.
Changes in the court
Key measures before and after the 36th District Court restructuring.
Then: 31. Today: 30
Then: Six. Today: Four
Then: 348. Today: 288
Cases disposed annually.
Then: 1.14 million. Today: 1.19 million
Then: 542,432. Today: 491,806
Then: $18.2 million. Today: $19.9 million
Then: $35.2 million. Today: $29 million
* On Jan. 1, the court will lose one judge
Source: Michigan Supreme Court