Snyder appointing two COA judges before reduction takes place

Gov. Rick Snyder

So much for judicial downsizing.

A week after the Legislature finalized a bill to reduce the size of the Court of Appeals by four judges (in a willy nilly, sorta kinda, let-me-know-when-you’re-ready-to-leave-honey kind of way), Gov. Rick Snyder will soon appoint two Court of Appeals judges within the next 25 days.

Snyder’s spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said in an email to Michigan Lawyers Weekly that filling the vacancies “certainly wasn’t the Governor’s preference. But in the overall picture of court restructuring, more efficient operations and to get us on the correct path of 24 Court of Appeals judgeships and implement SCAO recommendations, an agreement and understanding was reached with the Legislature that involved filling the current two vacancies.”

The reductions may not have happened at all if not for a compromise struck between the governor and the legislature, said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr., a strong supporter of the State Court Administrator’s plan to reduce the number of Michigan trial and appellate judgeships.

Young noted that the trial court reduction — 45 in all — is the greatest reduction of trial judges in any state.

“Frankly, the Court of Appeals judicial reductions bill was dead,” Young said. “But for the governor’s ability to effect a compromise, the Court of Appeals would have remained at 28 seats. This is another significant accomplishment without which the number of Court of Appeals judgeships would not be reduced.”

The two judgeships have been open for almost a year now. One was created when former judge Richard Bandstra retired from the bench at the end of 2010 and Brian Zahra was appointed by Snyder to replace former Justice Maura Corrigan when she left to head up the Department of Human Services last January.

It was believed by many that these two judgeships were simply going to be eliminated as part of the judicial downsizing, but Snyder’s appointment of new judges will now prolong the process even further.

Under the legislature’s plan that was sent to the Governor’s office on Tuesday (and is all but certain to be signed), one judgeship from each of Michigan’s four districts will be removed over time. These seats will be eliminated when, and only when, a sitting judge either retires, quits, or is removed from office. No timetable is set for when the reductions have to be finished.

But why will the judges be appointed within 25 days? Because the bill, when it is signed into law, will take effect March 25, 2012. If the seats are still open, they would be eliminated.

“They made a deal,” said Inside Michigan Politics publisher Bill Ballenger. “The Republican majority no doubt told the governor that they would send him a bill to eliminate the judgeships if he would fill those two vacancies.”

Business groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, had opposed the elimination of the judgeships, even though Snyder’s rationale has been all along to “cut, cut, cut,” Ballenger said. “There is a question about the court’s composition. If you have judges that could make decisions that could cost the state a lot of money, that is a concern” to the Chamber of Commerce.

SBM Blog also quoted Rep. Pete Lund (R – Shelby Twp) as saying “To the victor belongs the spoils.”

But the Michigan Association for Justice took issue with that assessment, and sent an emailed statement to Michigan Lawyers Weekly, opposing the reduction because “justice delayed is justice denied. However, we took Gov. Snyder at his word when he supported the reduction in the number of Court of Appeals judges as being in the best interest of government due to economic realities and an allegedly reduced workload.

“Therefore it is disturbing to see Gov. Snyder go back on his promise, especially in light of Rep. Pete Lund’s public comment ‘to the victor go the spoils,’ which make these sudden judicial appointments appear to be little more than partisan political favors paid for with taxpayer’s dollars.”

“Michigan judges should be above the political fray and it undermines the public’s faith in our legal system when judicial seats are haphazardly removed, and restored, and this is done among partisan commentary by elected officials about political ‘spoils.’ ”


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