Snyder signs law moving lawsuits to appeals court

 By David Eggert

Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law Tuesday removing lawsuits filed against the state from the jurisdiction of Ingham County and instead handing them to the state appeals court over objections from Democrats who accused him of court-rigging.
The law cleared the GOP-led Legislature just two weeks after being introduced. It transfers Court of Claims cases — those seeking at least $1,000 in damages from the state — from the circuit court in Ingham County, home of the state’s capital city, to the the appeals court, where four judges will hear the cases.

Those judges also gain jurisdiction over lawsuits against the state that are now overseen by county judges elsewhere: constitutional challenges, civil rights claims, and alleged freedom of information and open meetings violations.

Snyder said in a written statement that because the cases affect the entire state, “it only makes sense that judges from across all of Michigan hear and decide” them. Appeals judges are elected by 25 percent of state voters while voters in Ingham County, which leans Democratic, represent just 3 percent, according to Republicans.

Concerns about the law have been raised by Democrats, Ingham judges, trial lawyers, the State Bar of Michigan and even a retired GOP legislative aide. They’ve argued that the law is unconstitutional and a power grab that could cause chaos in the legal system.

“It’s disheartening, but not at all surprising, to see the governor once again put his own political needs above doing what’s ethical or what’s right for the people of Michigan,” Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said in a written statement.

The law requires the Michigan Supreme Court — now controlled 5-2 by Republican-nominated justices — to appoint four appeals judges for two-year terms to be Court of Claims judges. Their rulings could be appealed to other appeals court judges, and cases heard in Lansing would also be heard in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Snyder indicated that new legislation would be introduced to address concerns that the law removes the ability of plaintiffs to request jury trials in certain types of state cases.

Judges in Democratic-leaning Ingham County have ruled for labor unions and against Snyder on challenges to the right-to-work law, emergency manager laws, and salary deductions from state employees and teachers for retiree health care. Many, but not all, of those and other decisions have been reversed by higher courts.


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