Michigan’s House and Senate approved yesterday (June 15) creation of a commission to examine how Michigan’s trial courts are funded.
HB 4613 as approved by both chambers would create the Trial Court Funding Commission. The Commission comes in light of People v. Cunningham, a July 2014 Michigan Supreme Court decision holding that a section of the Code of Criminal Procedure did not provide courts with the independent authority to impose costs upon criminal defendants. Those costs helped pay for trial courts in the state.
The Commission shall
(a) Review and recommend changes to the trial court funding system.
(b) Review and recommend changes to the methods by which the courts impose and allocate fees and costs.
(c) Suggest statutory changes necessary to effectuate recommended changes.
(d) Prepare a final report to the governor and legislative leaders “not later than 2 years after the effective date of this act.”
HB 4613 now goes to the governor for approval.
A set of bills up for a hearing next week in the Michigan Senate’s Judiciary Committee would require that judges/courts that want to operate special problem solving dockets would have to be certified by the state court administrator’s office.
SB 435 (drug courts), SB 436 (DWI/sobriety courts), SB 437 (mental health courts), and SB 438 (veterans courts) provide that existing or new problem solving courts/dockets must be certified (“The state court administrative office shall establish the procedure for certification.”) or will be shut down starting January 1, 2018.
The bills are “tie-barred”, meaning for one to pass, they must all pass.
The hearing is set for June 13.
Michigan’s mandatory retirement age is something of a misnomer. A judge who reaches the age of 70 isn’t forced to retire that day, month, year, or even term, they just aren’t allowed to run for or be appointed to judicial office again. Or, as the state’s constitution puts it
No person shall be elected or appointed to a judicial office after reaching the age of 70 years.
Under HJR G of 2017, however, that restriction would be repealed. The repeal plan advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee on April 25.
HJR G is just the latest attempt to bring forth such a repeal.
- HJR S and SJR J of 2015/2016 House: Died in committee. Senate: Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
- SJR F of 2013/2014 Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
- SJR U of 2011/2012 Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
- HJR FF of 2007/2008 Filed, never taken up.
Amid the debate on SB 4 today and the decision to switch North Carolina’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals from nonpartisan to partisan races, there’s been a good amount of discussion of how many other states and appellate courts have partisan elections. Numbers have ranged widely. The reason for this is fairly straight forward in that for many states it is not a straight forward answer.
There are 8 states with 9 courts in which at one point or another justices of the supreme court/court of last resort show up with a party label somehow. It was 9 states with 10 courts until 2015 when West Virginia ended partisan races for their Supreme Court of Appeals.
- Alabama: partisan primaries and partisan general elections.
- Illinois: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 60% “yes to retain” vote.
- Louisiana: The state uses a “blanket primary” in which all candidates appear with party labels on the primary ballot. The two top votegetters compete in the general election. Thus in the general election, you could have two Republicans vying against each other for the seat, as occurred most recently in 2016 when Republican James “Jimmy” Genovese defeated fellow Republican Marilyn Castle for the 3rd Supreme Court District (Louisiana elects their justices by district, not statewide).
- Michigan: candidates for Supreme Court are nominated by political parties but the actual ballot in November is nonpartisan (i.e. no party labels).
- New Mexico: very complicated. When a vacancy occurs on the New Mexico Supreme Court, it is initially filled via merit selection (nominating commission sends list of names to governor, governor picks). The newly appointed justice must then run in a partisan primary and partisan general election but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 57% “yes to retain” vote.
- Ohio: Partisan primaries, but nonpartisan general elections.
- Pennsylvania: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election (50% “yes to retain” to remain in office).
- Texas: Everything is bigger in Texas, including their appellate courts. Texas has two “courts of last resort”: the Supreme Court for civil matters and the Court of Criminal Appeals. Both courts use partisan primaries and partisan general elections.
A plan set for a vote in the Michigan House today would tie judicial salary increases to those given to state employees. As the most recent edition of the Survey of Judicial Salaries indicates, Michigan judges have already had to wait 13 years since their latest salary increase the longest wait in the nation.
Currently judicial salaries are set as a percentage of the salaries of the supreme court. For example a judge of the Court of Appeals makes 92% of a justice of the Supreme Court, a Circuit Judge makes 85%, etc.
Under SB 56 as amended by the House the salaries would equal a percentage of the salary of a Supreme Court justice as of December 31, 2015, plus an amount based on percentage pay increases, excluding lump-sum payments, paid to civil service nonexclusively represented employees classified as executives and administrators on or after January 1, 2016.
If approved by the House, the bill would have to go back to the Senate to concur with the House amendment.
A group of bills to pay for and implement Michigan’s e-courts program cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. SB 531, SB 532, and SB 533 together would
- Create a temporary (5 years) e-filing fee on all civil cases: $25 for Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Court of Claims, Circuit Court, and Probate Court; $20/$10/$5 for District Court (depending on type and amount of civil claim)
- Government entities would not be required to pay the fees. The fee could be waived due to indigence/inability to pay
- Courts or court funding units already charging an electronic filing fee can continue to do so until December 2016
- All fees generated to go to state Judicial Electronic Filing Fund under the control of the Supreme Court
- Allows local courts to apply to the State Court Administrative Office to access and use money from the Fund
- Allows Supreme Court to select a qualified vendor for the electronic filing system based on competitive bidding
- Allows local courts to accept automated payments and for the clerk to charge for any fee associated (merchant transaction fee or 3% of the automated payment, whichever was less)
One committee amendment is of note. Amendment 1 of SB 533 would prohibit courts from charging a fee to retrieve and inspect a document on site, including a document that was filed electronically, but would be allowed to charge a fee to copy a document.
All three bills are now pending on the Senate floor.
There were no bills tracked by Gavel to Gavel in Michigan that have been enacted in 2015.