Measure to downsize judiciary approved

The Michigan House today approved a package of bills that will cut the number of trial judges in the state by 36 through attrition.

The original bipartisan legislation passed by the House in December proposed eliminating 41 trial court judgeships. The Senate amended the bills and reduced the number to 36.

''The last time we eliminated judgeships in Michigan was more than a decade ago, and even though the current reduction is not as sweeping as we first envisioned, it is a huge step toward reforming the judiciary, assuring access to justice and saving taxpayer money,'' said state Rep. John Walsh, R- Livonia, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The legislation was recommended in a report compiled by the State Court Administrative Offices. Past reports have urged similar reductions, but the recommendations were not acted upon. The current report received the support of the Michigan Supreme Court and all three state judge's associations.

''This will in no way affect a citizen's right to a speedy trial or full access to justice through the court system,'' Walsh said. ''It is overdue reform that will save taxpayer money in the long run, and will bring our judicial system to the correct size.''

The bill package would eliminate judgeships from district and circuit courts, merge or consolidate judicial circuits, and shift the duties of district judge to a county's probate judge.

In general, the reductions or consolidations would take effect on the date on which a vacancy occurred or the beginning date of the term for which an incumbent no longer sought election or reelection to that office, whichever occurred first.

In addition, by statute, each county that is not part of a probate court district must have at least one probate judge, and each probate court district must have one judge of probate. Some of the bills would eliminate one or more district court judgeships and shift those duties to the probate judge of the county or probate court district.

Together, these bills would eliminate twelve district judgeships and three circuit court judgeships. The cost to the state for a circuit judgeship includes the judge's salary, employer required retirement contributions, and the employer portion of FICA taxes, totaling approximately $158,000 for a circuit judge and $156,500 for a district judge.

Removing all of these judgeships would result in a total savings to the state of $2,352,000 per year once all judgeships are eliminated.

Because these judgeships are removed by attrition, these savings would only come into effect as judges retire or choose not to run for reelection. The outside dates for the removal of each of these judgeships range from 2015 to 2039. However, judges could retire or choose not to run for reelection before this date, in which case savings would be realized before the outside date. The full savings related to eliminating these judgeships will not be reflected in the state budget for several years.

The package--House Bills 5071-77, 5093-95 and 5101-08 --goes to the governor for his signature.

Published: Mon, Feb 20, 2012

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