High court has good ideas about cutting state positions

A report from the state Supreme Court recommends cutting eight positions; the Legislature should do just that.

Taxpayers should not pay for more government than they need. The statement applies to every level and every branch of government, from local and county to state and federal.

For Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young, who has stated this many times over the past few years, these are not just idle words. His department is taking action through the State Court Administrative Office Judicial Resources Recommendations Report, which is issued every two years. The state Legislature should approve the report’s fiscally prudent suggestions.

This year’s report proposes eliminating a total of eight judgeships from Michigan courts but also recommends adding an equal number in other jurisdictions to other courts that show “judicial need” based on workload. The latter is not just based on the number of cases but also on the types. Traffic violations, for example, carry less weight in the study because they are handled more quickly than felony cases.

In Metro Detroit, the recommendation is to cut four judges from Wayne County but add four in Macomb and two in Oakland.

The action, if approved, will not take place over night. The judgeships are eliminated through attrition. So, when a judge leaves or dies, the position is not filled. Consequently, the loss of judges is gradual. In 2011, the legislature approved cutting 36 judgeships but as of today, only 10 have been eliminated. The process gives local municipalities plenty of time to adjust.

Also in the report, Kent County would receive a circuit judge and a district judge. Meanwhile, Berrien, Delta, and Saginaw counties, and the 12th Judicial Circuit (Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties) would each lose a district court judge.

Proposals to consolidate districts to improve their operation also are in the report. For example, it is suggested that the 18th District Court in Westland consolidate with Redford, Dearborn Heights, Wayne or Plymouth.

“The report is very much about being responsible with tax dollars and courts working more efficiently,” says Marcia McBrien, spokeswoman for the Supreme Court administrative office. “It evens out the work load and attempts to make taxpayers get the best quality service for what they are paying.”

McBrien notes the state pays for the salary of judges, which includes social security contributions and 7 percent toward retirement. Local governments pick up the balance of the expenses, which include health care, staffing and offices. However, taxpayer funds are involved at all levels.

She says those who drafted the report addressed the dire financial straits of Wayne County’s 36th District Court but purposely did not recommend any action. They wanted to allow Court of Appeals Judge Michael Talbot leeway in resolving the problems. He was appointed by the Michigan Supreme Court to oversee operations at the troubled court.

The district court was one of the worst managed in the nation. It had a mounting deficit of $4.5 million and a meager 7-percent collection rate on fines when Talbot was appointed last month.

The Judicial Resources Recommendation report is a comprehensive analysis that is expertly documented and well presented. Maybe, if its recommendations are followed more closely in the future, the state can avoid the problems that occurred in 36th District Court.