OCTOBER 23, 1997
CHIEF JUSTICE CONRAD L. MALLETT, JR.*
Mr. Speaker Hertel, Mr. Minority Leader Sikkema, Mr. Majority Leader Posthumus, Mr. Minority Floor Leader Smith, Governor Engler, Lt. Governor Binsfeld, Secretary of State Miller, members of the House, members of the Senate, Rev. Hood, members of the judiciary, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Let me first acknowledge the presence of my family. Seated with State Representative Pat Gagliardi are my wife Barbara and my children, Alex and Kristan. Seated with Representative Morris Hood are my father and mother, Drs. Conrad and Claudia Mallett. Also present are my sisters, Drs. Lydia and Veronica Mallett, and my nieces Noel, Leah, and Simone. Let me acknowledge also the presence of my aunt, Mrs. Jacqueline Warr, and Mrs. Dolores Wilson.
Thirty-nine days after I was elected Chief Justice, Speaker Hertel came to my office. I have known Curtis all my political life and he has always been a good friend. The Speaker came with a purpose. He reminded me that on past Law Days Chief Justice G. MENNEN WIIJJAMS spoke to joint assemblies of the House and. Senate. This year, he pointed out, Law Day fell on a Thursday and the Legislature was likely to be in town. He invited me to renew the WILLIAMS tradition, and I politely declined. Then, I had nothing important to say. Today I do.
During the summer of 1996, two public acts were passed and signed into law that forever changed Michigan’s judiciary. Public Acts 374 and 388 significantly changed trial court organization and redistributed the third branch of government’s power regarding budgeting and personnel management. The changes wrought were not fully supported by the Michigan Supreme Court. Our own plan rejected, we opposed the form of the legislation eventually passed. We were especially critical of the decision to merge the City of Detroit Recorder’s Court into Wayne County’s Circuit Court. Every member of the Court publicly opposed the unnecessary destruction of one of this country’s great criminal courts. As the first African-American Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court I am keenly aware of my particular responsibility to be heard on issues of importance that affect the urban dwellers and poor people across this state. Regularly I am asked, can the American system of justice operate fairly and free of racism? For a time I could point to the reality of one of this state’s great criminal courts and report the answer could be, and was regularly, yes. The dissolution of Recorder’s Court was needless. It was, in my opinion, a bad decision. Nevertheless, the Michigan Supreme Court, under my leadership, has determined to move on.
Today we celebrate the arrival of this state’s new family court and report the successful merger of Detroit’s Recorder’s Court into the Wayne Circuit Court.
I want to thank all our trial court judges for their hard work. Make no mistake, the new family court exists today because the Michigan Supreme Court and trial judges across this state determined that to ignore the message sent by those assembled here would have jeopardized the justice system. On February 25, 1997, the Michigan Supreme Court issued Administrative Order No. 1997-1, and the reorganization process began. I do not want to overstate my case, but there is a family court—because the Michigan Supreme Court accepted .the Legislature’s invitation to create it. Reorganization has not been easy and is not yet over. Let us not forget that just ten months ago respected members of the judiciary declared their intention to test the new law’s constitutionality. Believing in their heart and soul that the constitution had been violated, these men and women did, at my request, cool their rhetoric and gave me a chance to modify by process and agreement that which they found to be constitutionally offensive. I want to thank my colleagues throughout the system for their support, patience, and prayers.
I also want to thank the State Bar of Michigan and members of the Family Law Section, who very early on made it possible for me to inform those judges soon to be assigned to the family court that their tenure will not be lifetime and that at regular points those who helped form the new family court could rotate out and assume different caseloads.
I also want to thank the County Clerks’ Association of Michigan. Public Act 374 acknowledges what the constitution requires. The county clerk is the clerk of the circuit court and the new family court. In most parts of this state the county clerks and the local chief judge have successfully concluded negotiations regarding how court records are to be kept and to whom the recordkeepers report. Unfortunately, that is not true everywhere. In some places the parties have not been able to reach agreement, and in some places trial court leaders have not done a good job of including the county clerk in the development of the new family court management plans. I say again to the county clerks of this state, the judiciary needs your cooperation. We welcome you to the judicial family.
During this time of transition all negotiating parties must remain flexible. Everyone must be prepared to yield something in furtherance of the public’s good. Negotiation is the only tool available. Failure is not an alternative. I repeat, I am available to assist in the negotiation process any time and will go anywhere. Please be aware the State Court Administrator understands the necessity by course of conduct to prove to all county officials involved in the judicial process again, and again, and again, that he can, in fact, be a balanced and fair broker.
But, I must be clear, there is no force on earth that will cause the judicial branch to surrender or compromise its responsibility for the administration of justice. If it is true that the judiciary’s relationship with the county clerks lacks trust, I say to all those persons concerned, give us time. I ask you to focus not on bureaucratic prerogatives, but on what is best for the justice system and the people of this state. Sustained cooperation will produce excellence. There has been enough destruction. We must, together, commit ourselves to a program of new system design and construction. Let us avoid confrontation.
Remember that for ten months my office and brave and forward-thinking members of the Michigan Association of Counties attempted to reach agreement modifying the employee and budget management program contained in Public Act 374. Three times I was certain we had in hand an agreement. Three times I was wrong. Finally, on August 18, 1997, the Michigan Supreme Court acted. In a speech before the Michigan Association of Counties, I announced the issuance of Administrative Order No. 1997-6. That order provided the balance Public Act 374 lacked. Now trial court judges and county officials must work together, neither is the budget or personnel management process more important than the other. Administrative Order No. 1997-6 met the terms set by the Legislature and reflected significantly the agreement I had failed to reach with the counties.
I want to apologize to all those assembled here, but particularly Senators Posthumus, Cherry, VanRegenmorter, Smith, and Dingell and Representatives Hertel, Sikkema, Wallace, Ciaramitaro, and Nye, for failing to provide prior notice of the issuance of our order. None of us now can look back. None of us now can focus on past slights, injuries, or failures of process. Each branch of government must look forward to the next century and realize that the bridge behind us is burning.
It is clear, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, each plays critical public service role. The legislative branch provides the people their law making voice. The executive branch provides the people their executory hammer. The judicial branch carries at the ready the people’s constitutional shield. Throughout this process, we in the judiciary have required those with whom we must act to recognize the judiciary’s independence. Some of you surely believe that our regular Declaration of Independence is a petulant act, not at all constitutional in scope. But the judiciary’s demand for independence, the judiciary’s demand for control of important judicial functions, the judiciary’s demand for supervisory authority over the justice system, the judiciary’s demand for participation in the employee bargaining process, the judiciary’s demand for decisional integrity, is not the judiciary’s demand at all. It is the demand made by the people of this state when they wrote and approved this state’s constitution.
We in the judiciary do not aspire to the role of superlegislature, or super county commission, or super county clerk. Believe me, we are more than content to allow our brothers and sisters in government to do their jobs, secure in the belief that they function in the people’s interest and will function within the confines of the constitution. But just as we must be free to confront a constitutional question raised by a citizen litigant, we must also be free to raise our voice and share our concerns as to how the judicial branch should be shaped and how critical functions within our branch must be performed. We are prepared to cooperate. The trial court judges in this state, particularly, stand ready to put their shoulders to the wheel of government and with local legislators and local executive branch members to achieve excellence. Those who oppose cooperation do not desire excellence. Those who oppose cooperation and who instead want to focus on bureaucratic victory do not desire excellence. Those who oppose cooperation and instead want to wage new contests with the judiciary in the state Legislature do not desire excellence.
The judiciary respects the power, the authority, and the responsibility of the funding units across the state. That is why into the hands of the legislative and executive branches of government, the judiciary will present line-item budgets. That is why the judiciary will, when at all possible, make trial court employee holiday schedules consistent with other local employees. That is why the judiciary will work with local government officials to reach agreement regarding employee pay scales. That is why there is to be a Trial Court Performance Commission. That is why there is to be a Judicial Performance Commission. That is why we will soon adopt a judicial vacation standard. That is why today we have appointed a Local Government Advisory Council. That is why today, with the Governor, we have created a Child Support Coordinating Council. That is why we will, within the next four weeks, publish for comment the Michigan Supreme Court’s Open Meetings and Freedom of Information policy.
That is why we are prepared to share some of the administrative space reserved for the judiciary in the constitution.
Our response to your requests has pushed the judiciary to the edge. Surely you understand that we can yield no more ground.
I am aware that the words I have chosen seem harsh and direct. Yet the directness of my message should not hide the judiciary’s institutional desire for productive peace. I have tried hard to point out that the judiciary must be given credit for heeding the call of the people’s representatives and responding positively. We, by the administrative orders issued this past year, avoided a constitutional confrontation with the Legislature and set in place rules of work that will in fact make the judicial system better.
Our task has been tremendously difficult, in no small part because the Supreme Court has no central base of operation. I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of Senator Harry Gast and Representative Morris Hood. These two men recognize the need for a Supreme Court Office Building and have worked with Governor Engler to see to it the building is built. I want to thank Senator Gast and Representative Hood for the monies the Legislature has already appropriated to draw up the building plans. This is a significant step forward, and the judiciary thanks all the men and women assembled here. Now it is time to ensure that the planning dollars are not spent in vain. I renew my request for full funding.
I am the chief administrative officer of a 240 million dollar state budget. If the costs associated with local trial court operations are factored in, the Michigan Supreme Court manages a 1.2 billion dollar asset. Those of you who know me are not surprised that I am a hands-on administrator. Yet, I am separated from most of my administrative staff. I tell you with no exaggeration that how I am doing this job is the way it must be done. The monumental changes that must be made require the daily attention of hundreds of people. The Michigan Supreme Court, the State Court Administrator, and the Court of Appeals, must be in the same place.
At one point I contemplated moving myself and my executive staff to the State Court Administrator’s Office. Budget persons estimated that just to move my executive staff would have cost more than $100,000. The price was simply too high. I determined it necessary to continue to deal with the gross deficiencies of scattered sites. Cost made a very good idea, impossible. The necessity, however, for a central base of operation remains the same.
These times require the hands-on day-to-day presence of the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Modem communication miracles have not replaced the good that comes from executive leadership and front-line management occupying much the same space at much of the same time.
Our request for a building is not just another request for a building. The Michigan Supreme Court asks only for tools that will enhance our ability to deliver to the public an effective and efficient work product. The entire SCAO operation except for some regional offices needs to be down the hall, not across the town.
Authorization of the new building is not the only request I present to you today. I have one more. Today the Michigan Supreme Court formally requests the Legislature’s approval of constitutional amendatory language fully merging the probate court into the circuit court and guaranteeing to the people of this state, at a minimum, one full-time judge per county.
Without a vision, there can be no leadership. For almost a decade, the Michigan Supreme Court has envisioned the possibility that in some jurisdictions there would exist fully unified trial courts. We called for some version of this concept in the 21st Century Report and presented this idea again in the Michigan Justice Project Report. Former Chief Justice DOROTHY COMSTOCK RILEY, former Chief Justice MICHAEL CAVANAGH, and former Chief Justice JAMES BRICKLEY, all stood where I stand today and requested similar action.
The time to act has come. If we—you and I—legislative—executive—judiciary agree, finally, that the family court is a good idea, then let us complete the task begun in 1996. Let us finish our work and present to the people concrete evidence that we know that half measures are not appropriate. The Michigan Supreme Court is unanimous in the belief that the full merger of the probate court into the circuit court, thus completing this iteration of court reform, is necessary. That unanimity must produce concrete action.
We ask for immediate consideration and swift approval of all the requests made here today. The time to act has come. We must complete the difficult task of creating constitutional agreement. I ask my dear friends gathered here to do no more or no less than the Court requests.
We should all be clear. The path marked today by the Michigan Supreme Court, a path that requires change and cooperation, is fraught with danger. Constitutional scholars, some of whom are members of the Michigan Supreme Court, are concerned that our cooperative experiment will fail. They fear that in the rubble of failure the lines that separate the branches of government will not be recognizable. If we fail, they fear that constitutional confrontation will be the only tool of government still operable. Their fear is real and because their fear is real, we must all proceed cautiously and deliberately. We must resist the temptation to add anything to our most important state document not determined to be absolutely necessary.
I remind those who believe that my Court should be subject, per the constitution, to the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act, that soon by court order we will open up the administrative process and make available reams and reams of information. Read the order.
Surely we all realize that interbranch cooperation must be based on mutual respect. When, as here, the Michigan Supreme Court comes to the legislative and executive branches of government and requests an important, but carefully measured modification, to our fundamental document and reports that all the programs required by our sister branches of government are, or will soon be, fully operating, then the Court’s request for caution surely should be granted.
We must, as public servants, pass this first test. We together must shape a constitutional amendment that merges the probate courts into the circuit courts of this state and guarantees one judge per county and does no more. If we can agree, we will have in hand empirical evidence that the branches of government can work together. We in the judiciary have done all that has been asked of us. Now, my friends, it is your turn.
So let me conclude as every speaker delivering this message has in the past and ask rhetorically, what is the state of the judiciary.
We are resolute and sure. Our confidence comes not just from the fervent belief in our message, but in the quality of the membership of the Michigan Supreme Court. PATRICIA BOYLE, MICHAEL CAVANAGH, ELIZABETH WEAVER, MARILYN KELLY, JAMES BRICKLEY, and CLIFFORD TAYLOR, are extraordinary public servants. At each step in the process, whenever I have looked left or right, my current and former colleagues have always been present. I owe them a debt of gratitude that I can never pay. Together we stand unafraid of tomorrow, eyes front, the gateway to the past far behind us in the distance.
We, all of us together, must improve the state of the judiciary. Your help is needed, your friendship welcome, and your full participation in the improvement process, anticipated. Without your help, we will not achieve the excellence that people deserve. The people await our final work product. Thank you very much.
STATE OF THE JUDICIARY REPORT TO THE LEGISLATURE
AND THE PEOPLE OF MICHIGAN
OCTOBER 23, 1997
CHIEF JUSTICE CONRAD L. MALLETT, JR.*
Michigan’s court system is changing rapidly and dramatically in order to improve service to Michigan citizens. The Michigan Supreme Court, the Legislature, the executive branch, and numerous courtrelated agencies and associations have joined together to modernize and streamline the system. The goal is to redirect attention and resources to a more efficient and responsive delivery of court services.
Major justice initiatives begun over the past two years focus on the well-being of Michigan’s families, especially children. These initiatives stress the need to provide families with a clear path through the judicial system and with respect for the family unit. They seek to ensure that children throughout the state are fully protected by the legal process and have a home to call their own. They seek to strengthen protection for victims of domestic violence. They strive to make the system more accessible to litigants representing themselves in domestic relations matters. And they offer alternative methods of dispute resolution to those whose cases may benefit from a collaborative rather than an adversarial approach.
Significant structural changes accompany these initiatives. Court mergers, both accomplished and experimental, are paving the way toward new efficiencies in court administration. Programs for improving mal court management, revenue collections, budgeting practices, and court security will help maximize productivity during a time of scarce local resources. New technologies and data protocols will make it possible to organize and share data seamlessly on a systemwide basis, while new means of communication will enable courts to keep in constant touch rapidly and efficiently across the state.
Driving all this activity is an unprecedented commitment among all branches of state and local government to collaboratively meet the challenges posed by several phenomena: a court system overtaken by the litigation boom of the past twenty-five years, an increased public demand for more efficient government, the rapid pace of change in technology, and the continuing need for an independent judiciary capable of working interdependently with other public institutions in an era of cooperative administration. New relationships are being forged to meet these new demands, making new solutions possible. The building blocks of a new system are moving into place. There is more to be done, but a strong foundation is being laid.
New Management for a New Era. The Supreme Court has carved out its administrative mission for the future: to preserve the integrity and independence of the judicial process–vital to the fair and impartial adjudication of the court system’s caseload–while creating partnerships with the wide array of courtsystem stakeholders to ensure a system that is efficient, effective, responsive, accessible, and accountable.
The mission requires a new approach to court administration. Issues must be confronted directly, with all those who have answers sitting at the table. Courts, including the Supreme Court, must become more visible, so that the public can better understand its stake in the justice system, and more effectively scrutinize government operations. The judiciary must be willing to act on the ideas of those outside the system to ensure that the best interests of justice are served.
To achieve these ends, Chief Justice CONRAD L. MALLETT, JR., reorganized the management structure of the Supreme Court and the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) and appointed an executive management team responsible for promoting better coordination, efficiency, and accountability throughout the Court’s administrative operations. The management changes are based on the recognition that independence derives from trust, that trust is built through strong working relationships between the court system and those who determine its direction and require its services, and that strong relationships are built on understanding derived from open communication. The Court’s new executive management team is responsible for working closely with others to fashion a court system that meets the test of public responsibility. The team includes the State Court Administrator, Director of the Office of the Chief Justice, Supreme Court Counsel, Intergovernmental Liaison, Finance Director, Budget Officer, Chief Commissioner, Public Information Officer, and Assistant Public Information Officer.
In 1994, the Supreme Court’s Michigan Justice Project launched a critical phase in the court reorganization effort that is the subject of much of this report. Since then the Court has worked diligently with the other branches of government to bring about reforms that translate into improved court system performance. In 1997, the Chief Justice convened a stakeholder group to usher in a new era of cooperation with local government in trial court administration, and committed the state’s chief judges to that purpose through Administrative Order No. 1997-6. Under the leadership of its new state court administrator, John D. Ferry, Jr., the SCAO is the focal point for implementation of the new management initiatives in the state’s trial courts.
Nurturing accountability and building trust require a public commitment to openness. Although neither the Freedom of Information Act nor the Open Meetings Act applies to the judiciary—the former by its own tenns, the latter by Supreme Court opinion—the Supreme Court has endeavored to honor the principle of openness underlying those acts within the judicial system, consistent with the judiciary’s unique and primary role as the official arbiter of disputes within our society. Access to adjudicative information has been publicly defined for many years by court rule. Access to administrative information, and opportunities for public participation in Supreme Court administrative activities, have never been formed. As a result, many people are unaware of what is available, and through what process. The Supreme Court is committed to correcting that omission through a policy that will result in greater accountability and public understanding of the administrative activities and needs of the judiciary. With the publication of a Supreme Court order addressing these issues, Michigan will join only a small number of states whose highest courts have articulated a formal freedom of information and administrative decision-making policy.
The Supreme Court is also increasing its outreach activities. In June 1997, the Court hosted a regional meeting in Marquette, its first visit to the Upper Peninsula in nearly ten years. While in Marquette, the justices met with D.P. judges, attorneys, legislative representatives, county commissioners, county clerks and bar leaders. Members of the Court’s executive management team have met across the state with numerous legislators and professional organizations representing judges, court administrators, clerks, attorneys, and other stakeholders in the judicial system to advance court reform. A new Supreme Court newsletter, Michigan Supreme Court Report, has been developed to keep these groups and the public up to date on administrative developments within the court system. A Supreme Court Web site will soon be available.
An essential element in making this new approach to management work is appropriate work space. The Supreme Court, long asked to modernize its operations, is doing so with energy and resolve. With recently appropriated funding from the Legislature, planning is now underway for a technologically up-to-date Supreme Court Office Building whose design will enhance the modernization effort. As one of only four state court systems without a major state building in its state capital devoted to its highest court, Michigan’s judiciary has long been at an operational disadvantage compared to its sister court systems. The new Supreme Court Office Building, by contrast, will allow Michigan to set the national standard for efficient, user-friendly court administration. It will also heighten the visibility of the judicial branch and demonstrate its readiness to be held accountable for a revitalized system of justice.
The New Family Division of Circuit Court: Preparing the Way. In 1995, the Michigan Supreme Court urged the consolidation of circuit and probate courts in order to improve the delivery of justice to families. The Court sought to bring all matters pertaining to a single family before one judge in one trial court. The time had come to end the splitting of family matters between two courts and different judges—a practice burdensome, confusing, and counterproductive for families.
The Legislature responded with 1996 PA 388, which created a family division of the circuit court. Beginning January 1, 1998, the family division will handle most family issues now processed separately by either the circuit or probate court. The potential for benefit is enormous. When the new family division is fully operational, families will receive more streamlined, integrated service in the handling of their cases.
The complexities of creating a new family division are also significant. Recognizing the magnitude of the task, the legislation required circuit and probate court chief judges to develop operating plans for the new division by July 1, 1997. To ensure that these plans would promote high standards of public service consistent across the state, the Supreme Court in November 1996 appointed the Family Court Division Implementation Task Force. The task force was charged with recommending issues to be addressed in the operating plans, along with statutory and court rule changes to support implementation. On February 14, 1997, the task force issued its report, and the Supreme Court adopted Administrative Order No. 1997-1, requiring all circuit and probate judges to submit operating plans in conformity with requirements and guidelines recommended by the task force. The SCAO provided all chief judges with the requirements and guidelines in March.
To date, forty-seven plans have been approved and nine are under review. The SCAO staff has worked closely with chief judges and stakeholders in nearly every circuit to identify issues and assist with the development of plans. In circuits where chief judges have not been able to reach agreement on a plan, the SCAO has met with the judges and stakeholders and drafted a plan for that circuit. These efforts will continue until all circuits have submitted plans approved by the SCAO.
A number of activities have been undertaken to support the new family division. A key goal of 1996 PA 388 was the assignment of one judge to one family. Mechanisms for identifying members of the same family involved in disparate cases were necessary to meet this goal and have been adopted by the Supreme Court. Amendments to key domestic relations and juvenile court rules—MCR 3.206, 5.931, and 5.961—require that a plaintiff or petitioner identify whether a pending or resolved action involving a family member has been filed in any court in the state, and also identify the judge to whom the case was assigned, and the case number. These amendments will help ensure coordination in addressing matters pertaining to members of the same family.
Also underway are efforts by the Supreme Court and the SCAO, in conjunction with circuit and probate judges and other appropriate participants, to:
· Develop rules to govern family division court procedures. Toward this end, a joint court rules committee has been formed to review current domestic relations and juvenile court rules, and recommend immediate and long-term revisions. The project is scheduled to begin in November/December 1997, and complete its charge in June 1998.
· Revise SCAO-approved forms to conform with family division practice. SCAO convened a meeting of the forms committee on September 4 to review necessary modifications. Revisions are in progress with the aim of distributing finalized forms to court staff and county clerks by January 1, 1998.
· Modify trial court caseload reports to reflect cases to be transferred to the family division. The goal is to draft amendments to existing caseload reports, review the data being collected, and consider development of a family division caseload report. When drafted, revised reports will be circulated to court staff and county clerks for review and comment. The project began in August and is scheduled for completion by July 1998.
· Provide regional personal protection order training and informational seminars. Four regional seminars are planned through January 1998 to provide judges and staff with information regarding statutes, new rules relating to personal protection orders, and the use of forms developed by the SCAO for personal protection orders.
· Provide training for family division judges and staff. The Michigan Judicial Institute (MJI) has established an ambitious training program for this year, with a focus on the needs of judges and court staff in implementing the family division. Special seminars have been scheduled for family division management teams (chief judges, presiding judges, key staff) to provide training for transition to the family division, drawing heavily on the expertise gained in Supreme Court demonstration projects consolidating local courts. New training media, such as interactive CD-i, are being explored and implemented to extend the reach of training efforts. Technical assistance will be provided for training developed at the local level.
Preparations for launching the family division in Michigan are well underway. To fully realize the promise and potential of the family division, however, a final step is necessary: a constitutional amendment that enables the total merger of probate court into circuit court, and modernizes the present constitutional requirement of a probate court in every county into a guarantee of at least one full-time judge elected exclusively by the voters of each county.
Wayne County Court Reorganization: Future Arrives Ahead of Schedule. Court reform legislation passed in 1996 called for the merger of the Detroit Recorder’s Court with the Third Circuit Court in Wayne County, and the creation of the family division of the circuit court with some jurisdiction transferred from probate to circuit court. In order to meet the extraordinary challenge of reorganizing seventy-three judges and more than 1,000 employees housed in five locations, the Supreme Court and the SCAO established a strategic planning team of judges, administrators, and county officials. Among the issues addressed by the team were judicial and staff resource allocation to each of the courts and divisions; records management, including where files would be located and how files would be transported to other locations; consolidation of administrative structures to establish uniformity in policies and procedures; consolidation of jury management systems; information system linkage; assigned counsel procedures; case assignment procedures; and facilities. In addition to the operational issues of the merger, the issues related to the transfer of employees are very complex, as there are multiple labor contracts in each of the courts.
Another significant issue was the reassignment of judges and staff to divisions of the court with case types they had not regularly handled. A series of training programs presented by members of the bench and members of the local bar assisted the court in providing an update on specific areas of the law. The team identified those issues that were essential to the basic steps of the merger and developed an implementation plan to meet the October 1, 1997, merger date. This resulted in the successful merger of the Detroit Recorder’s Court and the Third Circuit Court, and the early implementation of the family division of the circuit court on October 1.
With the first steps of the merger in place, there are still significant issues which must be addressed. A strategic plan for implementation has been developed, which projects full implementation in two to five years. The implementation of the family division was completed three months ahead of the January 1, 1998, deadline established by the Legislature.
Court Consolidation Demonstration Projects: First Lessons. Six demonstration projects were initiated by the Supreme Court in 1995 to test the merger of the circuit, probate, and district courts in a variety of jurisdictions.’ The six jurisdictions were given the flexibility to design their own divisions, including a family division.
Preliminary evaluation results show that, while the projects encountered difficulties and revealed potential problems, many efficiencies and improvements in effectiveness have been realized, primarily through the strong central leadership provided by a system of one chief judge and one trial court administrator for each project. Benefits include:
· Greater use of judicial and quasi-judicial resources by broadening the pool of available resources and using them where they are most needed.
· Early formation of and planning for a family division prior to the legislated implementation date of January 1, 1998. This gave the pilot sites a head start on implementation of the legislation, enabling them to serve as a model for other courts.
· Greater cost-effectiveness and better information on fiscal management issues.
· Positive stakeholder perceptions. Stakeholders include attorneys, city and county officials, law enforcement agencies, state officials, the public, court staff, and judges. Stakeholders believe judge time is used more productively, cases are handled more promptly, the family division provides better service to children and families, judicial councils are an effective forum for communication and decision making, and technology has enhanced court operations.
· Improved coordination of activities with court related agencies.
· Improved use of court technology through integrated case processing and enhanced electronic communication.
The six projects are located in Washtenaw, Barry, Berrien, Isabella, and Lake counties, with one project in the multicounty circuit of Crawford, Kalkaska, and Otsego counties. The Supreme Court has extended the projects, with limited state funding, through 1998.
Local Court Management Councils: A Forum for the Future. Structural changes and new demands create the need for new ways .of doing business. The public’s insistence on more efficient and user-friendly courts places a premium on creativity and interbranch cooperation. New configurations of judicial and administrative services are just the beginning of the transformation that the new century will bring. In the future, the Supreme Court believes, local court management councils will be a vital, indispensable forum for collaborative government.
By Administrative Order No. 1997-6, issued August 18, 1997, the Supreme Court invited the local funding units of the state trial courts to create local court management councils, and committed the state’s trial court chief judges as members of the councils to sit down with local officials to develop agreements