State Of The Judiciary Message
Wednesday, March 21, 1984, 11 A.M.
The Capitol, Lansing, Michigan
Chief Justice G. Mennen Williams*
It is indeed an honor and a pleasure to be with you again today and to have this opportunity to report the progress which the Judiciary has made since our last meeting and to share with you our plans for the future.
Justice Cardozo once said, “The great tides and currents which engulf the rest of men do not turn their course and pass judges by.”
We, like you in the legislative and executive branches of government, have experienced the effects of a downsized economy. Unfortunately, simultaneously, we have also experienced an “up-sized” caseload. The caseload of the Supreme Court alone has increased by fourteen percent since we last met. On the basis of current rate of filings, we project that we will receive 2,400 new cases for this reporting year.
For the year ending June 30, 1983, the Court issued 3,091 orders: 2,224 final orders, and 867 orders on motions and administrative matters. This means that for the second consecutive year the Supreme Court disposed of more cases than it took in. With trivial exceptions, each justice must act upon each order. Thus, for the year that ended on June 30, 1983, each justice had to reach a decision on and participate in the issuance, on the average, of more than twelve orders per day every weekday of the year.
The Court has endeavored and continues to work toward more efficient processing of cases without a reduction in the quality of decisions made. We have tried to expedite opinion release and have had some success.
Like its caseload, the Court’s administrative workload has more than quadrupled over the last fifteen years. This administrative workload stems largely from the Court’s responsibility for the superintendence over our one court of justice prescribed in the 1963 Constitution. During the last year the Court met twenty-two times in administrative sessions and considered and acted upon 133 agenda items. Many of these actions required analytical and factual reports, some very extensive, including input solicited from the bench, the bar, interested public officials, and the public. Some of you have participated in this process and provided valuable insight into administrative matters facing the Judiciary.
Among the administrative matters before the Court are several which will have a significant impact on the court system.
The Michigan Court Rules revision has been in progress for twenty years! The rules were published for comment and many thoughtful suggestions were received. The committee will be reporting to the Court by April 1, 1984, their final revisions, and it is our plan to adopt the rules with an effective date of January 1, 1985.
The Court has worked with the Court of Appeals and developed a procedure for handling conflicts which result when two panels of the Court of Appeals reach different results on the same legal issue. We believe this procedure will provide litigants and trial judges earlier resolution of such conflicts.
A committee on criminal rules is currently working to develop for the first time procedural rules for criminal cases. We anticipate receiving this report by December, 1984.
A newly appointed committee on Juvenile Court Rules has been directed to review and recommend revisions to Juvenile Court Rules.
A State Bar Review Committee has been appointed with former Justice OTIS SMITH as chairman. It will examine and make recommendations concerning the specific activities of the State Bar. A report is expected to be received from this committee in July, 1984.
A committee to review the issue of part-time probate judges was appointed in November, 1983, with former State Bar President John Clark as chairman. Their report will be before the Court in April, 1984.
The Sentencing Guidelines Advisory Committee under Justice MICHAEL CAVANAGH’s direction has continued to review the guidelines process. As you know, effective March 1, 1984, by Administrative Order 1984-1, the Court instituted for a one-year period the mandatory use of the guidelines to assist in the evaluation of the program.
We welcome the continued interest of the Legislature in sentencing guidelines. We stand ready to share with the Legislature the data resulting from the current guidelines experiment.
A first pioneering step in interchange of Wayne Circuit and Recorder’s Court judges has been approved by the Joint Executive Committee.
Over the last year the executive and legislative branches have experienced commendable successes in economic development. You have enacted laws to foster the business climate and the executive branch has diligently implemented programs to foster our recovering economy. At the same time, we in the Judiciary have been involved in what we like to call “judicial development.” We began by reviewing our own “trial court support structure”— the state court administrative office. As a result, in November, 1983, we assigned DANIEL WALSH of the Court of Appeals to act as state court administrator. Judge WALSH’S experience as a district, circuit, and appellate judge has provided him with both the skills and the insight to attack our growing caseloads and stagnant funding problems, and to do so with the confidence of both the Supreme Court and the trial courts. The state court administrator’s office is renewing its focus on determining the causes of, and providing solutions for, trial court delay.
Accountability of trial courts has been heightened by full implementation of the chief judge rule. Improved statistical reporting and data processing systems are being implemented. Local trial judges are— at their own initiative— developing case aging reports and closely monitoring their own caseloads.
As you know, good judges are made, not born. “Judicial development” requires training and education. The Michigan Judicial Institute, under the supervision of JAMES L. RYAN, has been instrumental in assisting Michigan’s 541 judges and their staffs to do their jobs better. The MJI assists judges in keeping current on new laws which you pass daily.
Your recent enactments in the areas of DUIL and domestic relations alone have required the development of new programs—which MJI has provided in addition to its ongoing programs.
When we last met, the Supreme Court had only planned to meet regionally with all judges throughout the state. During 1983, the full Supreme Court met with trial court judges in five regions. We have scheduled the remaining two regions for 1984. These meetings provided the judges an opportunity to address and interrogate the full Court in an open exchange of ideas and have been mutually appreciated and useful. Valuable insight into the administrative problems of the trial judges was gained by the justices—we had the opportunity to step down from the bench, to sit around a table in your communities, and to hear what people really think the Supreme Court and the administration of justice is all about.
The appointment of the part-time judges study committee was one of the results of these meetings.
Last year I invited any member of the Legislature who wished to attend these regional meetings. The invitation is renewed! We will be meeting in Troy on March 23 and in Battle Creek on May 4.
Communication with trial courts is also facilitated through meetings with the circuit, the district, and the probate judges’ associations and representatives of all three together. As chief justice, I have met periodically with the presidents of the associations to informally hear the concerns of trial judges. This form of communication has provided several opportunities to focus the energy of the state’s judges on issues which cut across court lines and permeate the one court of justice.
While communications within the Judiciary have improved, communications between trial courts and their local funding bodies has been diminished. Tension between counties and district control units and trial courts has resulted from the increased costs of court services and rising caseloads. Disputes over which court services are “necessary and essential” have resulted in serious confrontations in over twenty counties (and the number is growing daily). Some of these disputes resulted in lawsuits. Informal efforts to mediate these disputes by a Joint Council of the Michigan Association of Counties and Trial Judges have often been successful due to the personal commitment of judges and commissioners. But these efforts are only stopgap measures until alternate state funding mechanisms can be developed.
Last year I discussed with you the dire need for facilities for courts. The Supreme Court still suffers from the division of its staff in three locations. But you were responsive to our concern for local court facilities. Last year you appropriated $150,000 for a pilot project in the 45B District Court to test the feasibility of an economic development public works program to upgrade inadequate court facilities throughout the state. We, like you, are eagerly watching this program. I have heard from many of you and your communities regarding expansion of this program or alternative methods of facility funding. I urge you to continue your exploration for creative funding mechanisms for court facilities as you refine your public works strategies. We will help as appropriate.
We understand legislative and executive concerns for a balanced, no-growth budget. We understand your efforts to invest scarce tax dollars in Michigan’s future. The Judiciary accepts the fiscal realities of today. But at the same time we challenge you to join with us as we plan for the courts of tomorrow.
We, in the Judiciary, have used the hiatus in state court financing as a period of review. We started by assessing what is currently being done in every segment of our operation. We plan to develop a long-range plan that will tell what resources are needed to meet the entire judicial workload in Michigan. We plan to come back to you with documentation of our needs, and work with you and local funding bodies so that you have the information you need to adequately provide for the future of Michigan’s courts. We are necessarily dependent upon you to recognize the validity and merit of our needs so that they can be translated to action by statute.
Several matters are before you now which deserve your attention.
First, you are currently reviewing the Governor’s budget recommendations and will soon be voting on appropriation bills. We were generally pleased with the Governor’s recommendations. I would be dishonest, however, if I didn’t also express my disappointment regarding three areas which were omitted from that recommendation.
First, we have already discussed court facility funding. Second, the lack of funding for judicial liability insurance has been of continuing concern to the Judiciary. Third, the lack of either funding or planning for state assumption of trial court costs.
Substantive legislation which affects the structure of the Judiciary and the administration of justice are of mutual concern to the Legislature and the Judiciary. I understand you have pending before you several bills which would establish new judgeships. Through the state court administrator, we have provided you with caseload and population statistics by court type. These data are inadequate to project an objective recommendation by this Court; however, the Court plans with your help to develop objective criteria for the recommendation of judgeships in the future. Your immediate consideration of these bills is urged because any new judgeships could be contested in the November elections.
We recognize that the Legislature is responding to its duty to readjust Court of Appeals districts in accordance with population, and you are also considering whether the Court of Appeals increased caseload requires additional judges. In this Court’s opinion, the Court of Appeals needs six additional judges in the immediate future. If we can be of any appropriate help in these matters, we stand ready to do what we can.
In conclusion, I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with you today. I urge you to join with me in my commitment to the people of Michigan to provide the most efficient, just, and fair court services which can be provided. I know from experience that your job is difficult, your differences many, and demands on your time great. I express on behalf of the entire Judiciary my sincere appreciation for the consideration you have given to the needs of the Judiciary.