House panel reports judicial reforms package; Walsh says outreach resulted in changes

A package of bills to eliminate 44 trial court judgeships, potentially saving millions in taxpayer money, cleared the House Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chair John Walsh said the bipartisan legislation is the result of the 2011 Judicial Resources Recommendation report, compiled by the State Court Administrative Offices (SCAO). The legislation approved by the panel amended the number of judgeships to be cut from the original 45 to 44.

''We conducted a number of hearings in Lansing to listen to what stakeholders had to say about the proposed reductions,'' said Walsh, R-Livonia. ''We conducted a hearing in the Upper Peninsula to gather information from judges and others there, and made the decision to amend the legislation after hearing from those involved.''

The SCAO issues a report every two years. Past reports have urged reductions, but the recommendations were not acted upon. The current report received the backing of the Michigan Supreme Court and all three state judge's associations.

''We have made some changes affecting Southeastern Michigan and Sanilac, Huron, Hillsdale, Roscommon and Ogemaw counties,'' Walsh said. ''We considered these better options that give us the same results, which will save taxpayer money in the long run.''

In addition Pontiac would lose only one judge, not two as originally planned.

Walsh said the long-term savings are estimated at $7 million. The process will take time as judges who retire or pass away will not be replaced in counties where the number of bench positions is being reduced.

''The House Judiciary Committee has succeeded in making significant judicial reforms that will save taxpayer money,'' Walsh said. ''At the same time, Michigan residents are assured to have access to justice through the court system.''

The package--House Bills 5071-77 and 5101-08 --now goes to the full House for consideration.

Published: Thu, Dec 15, 2011

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