36 retire from the busy 36th Magistrate retires after deciding some 380K cases

This month marks the beginning of a retirement exodus at 36th District Court. Thirty-six employees will retire due to the incentive offered by the State of Michigan for those in the State Employees Retirement System.

The 36th District court has 31 judges and six magistrates. The chief judge is Marylin E. Atkins. More cases are conducted per year in this court than the combined volume of the next 15 busiest Michigan district courts. In 2009, the court's total caseload was 1,185,260.

"I have always been immensely proud of the dedication that our judges, magistrates, administrators and personnel have shown in serving all who come through our doors seeking a fair administration of justice," said Atkins. "We service over one million people per year as we are one of the busiest courts in the nation. Those whom we honor as they retire have my sincere thank you for all that you have given to this court over many years of service. You are all unique and each of you has left an indelible mark on our court. God bless you as you continue on life's journey."

Magistrate Robert Costello has served as one of six magistrates for almost 22 years. He has served longer than any other magistrate. Costello has decided more than 380,000 cases for more than 240,000 litigants in his courtroom.

Costello is amazed at how well the court functions with such a large number of litigants each year.

"Every year each of the six magistrates decides more than 15,000 traffic cases, 2,000 criminal arraignments, and 500 small claims cases," said Costello.

There are no substitute magistrates; if a magistrate is sick or on vacation, the remaining magistrates must scramble to cover the cases of the absent magistrate. Since last April, each magistrate is off work one day per month for a budget-imposed furlough day. Even Atkins has been known to aid with the jammed magistrate dockets.

The 31 judges also do not have replacements. The judges are divided into buddy groups of four or five judges each. Each group is responsible to do the cases for a judge of that group who is sick or on vacation.

Carol Michalak Duff, trial services manager is one of the long serving retirees and is responsible for the daily allocation of the judges and magistrates. She said the 36th District Court "does very well in organizing litigation in a very systematic way. This accounts for at least 99.9 percent of all the people. The others, those who for whatever reason do not fit into the system, sometimes can have a problem."

Duff continued, "There are simply not enough employees (or funds to hire more employees) to solve every problem for the very small percentage of people who have problems."

Willie S. Cockrell, Jr., coordinator of court reporters, has been a part of the old Common Pleas Court and the 36th District Court system for more than 37 years. During his first 30 years in the court system, he worked as an official court reporter for the Honorable Ricardo J. Lubienski, the Honorable Rufus Griffin, Jr., and the Honorable Willie G. Lipscomb, Jr. In April of 2003, he was promoted to coordinator of court reporters.

Cockrell said it has been a pleasure to work in the court system and to have been a part of the rapid advancement of court reporting technology and the overall video arraignment technology that the 36th District Court has incorporated. He said that Court reporters being able to produce transcripts in a moment's notice with the aid of the computer, is a far cry from when attorneys had to wait weeks and even months to receive transcripts.

Cockrell is proud of the advancements and stated that being able to arraign prisoners through video technology literally from any place in the country is not only cost effective but lessens any security mishaps that may occur when transporting prisoners from the precincts to the court for arraignment.

"I'm going to miss working with the court reporters, court clerks, magistrates and the judges. However, there comes a time when we all must make that decision when to retire and that time for me is now," said Cockrell.

Published: Thu, Dec 23, 2010