MSC seeks comment on proposed judicial performance measures

The Michigan Supreme Court is interested in measuring trial court performance and providing public access to the reports.

Proposed Administrative Order No. 2012-XX would authorize the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) to create standardized methods for evaluating trial court performance.

The proposal is broad in concept but short on details.

The concept:

Performance measurement is a critical means to assess the services provided to the public and the processes used to deliver those services. Performance measurement can assist in assessing and recognizing areas within courts that are working well, and those that require attention and improvement.

Trial court performance measures are not a new concept. The National Center for State Courts first issued the 10 CourTools in 2005; in the 1990s, SCAO formed a task force, including judges and court administrators, to study how to measure a court’s performance. In 2009, the state court administrator convened the Trial Court Performance Measures Committee, which piloted performance measures and offered recommendations. The committee stressed that all trial courts should embrace performance measures as an opportunity to provide high-quality public service in the most efficient way. Further, because transparency and accountability are integral elements of an efficient and effective judiciary, SCAO’s standardized statewide performance measure reports should be readily available to the public.

How might all of this work? That’s largely being left to the SCAO to figure out:

A. The State Court Administrative Office is directed to:

1. Develop a plan for implementation of performance measures in all trial courts.

2. Assist trial courts in implementing and posting performance measures.

3. In conjunction with the Trial Court Performance Measures Committee, assess and report on the effectiveness of the performance measures and modify the measures as needed.

B. Trial courts are directed to:

1. Comply with the trial court performance measures plan developed by the State Court Administrative Office.

2. Report performance measure information to the State Court Administrative Office.

C. SCAO’s standardized statewide performance measure reports shall be made available to the public on the Internet.

Got some thoughts about this? Refer to the proposal for information on submitting comments. The comment period closes Nov. 1.

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Lawmakers pass judicial reduction bills

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. got a great big Valentine today, as the last of a package of bills to reduce the number of Michigan judges passed in the House today.

Young has focused much of his energy during his first year as chief, on right-sizing the state’s judiciary, something he has said needed to be done for years.

“The legislators are doing the right thing for the courts and for the taxpayers,” said Young in a statement issued today. “In politics, it’s easy to grow the size of government, but it takes political courage to reduce it. These legislators showed their courage and their common sense.”

He went on to say that the reductions represent the largest cut in judgeships ever accomplished in the United States.

When complete, the cuts will save the state $6 million per year. The cuts will be accomplished by attrition, and will be save about $750,000 by the end of this year.

The reductions were recommended by the State Court Administrative Office in its biannual report issued in August.

To read the report, click here.

Foster Care Review Board looking for a few good judges, attorneys

The Foster Care Review Board is seeking nominations for its annual Child Welfare Awards, which honor judges, lawyers, foster care workers, and foster parents for exemplary service to children in Michigan’s foster care system.

“The awards recognize those who protect, care for, and advocate for foster care children and their parents,” said James Novell, FCRB program manager. “These people have tremendous responsibilities, yet receive little, if any, recognition. The Child Welfare Awards were established to honor them and call attention to their difficult and demanding work.”

Categories include Jurist of the Year (judges and referees); Foster Care Worker of the Year, LGAL of the Year (lawyer guardians ad litem); Foster Parent of the Year; and Parent Attorney of the Year.

Deadline is Sept 15. Award recipients will be recognized at the Nov. 10 FCRB annual training conference. Nomination forms can be found at http://www.courts.michigan.gov/scao/services/fcrb/fcrb.htm.

The FCRB provides a third-party review of the foster care system, and is administered by the State Court Administrative Office.

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SCAO recommends cutting 45 trial judgeships

Parts of Michigan have too many judges, according to a report released this morning by the State Court Administrative Office. The state must eliminate 45 trial court judges as a first step toward re-balancing the workload, according to the 2011 Judicial Resources Recommendations report (JRR), produced by SCAO every two years.

While the report recommends eliminating 45 trial court judgeships, mostly in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Peninsula, it also says that some trial courts need more judges — 31 combined new judgeships, to be precise. But during this challenging economy when funding units, mainly counties, are having a hard time balancing their budgets, SCAO did not recommend creating those new judgeships for at least another two years.

The report also recommends cutting the number of Michigan Court of Appeals judges from 28 to 24.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young said that the MSC endorses the recommendations.

“The Court has historically not taken a position either way on the report’s findings, so the Court’s unanimous endorsement is recognition of the superior quality of the JRR,” Young said in a press release this morning. The Court of Appeals, the Michigan Judges Association, the Michigan Probate Judges Association and the Michigan District Judges Association also endorse the report.

Perhaps even more importantly, so does Gov. Rick Snyder, Young said.

The legislature and the governor have to approve any reduction of judgeships. Young said at a press conference this morning that he would be “working across the mall” to help that happen.

Given the state’s current budget challenges, the $157,000 per judicial position (for salary and benefits), Young might actually succeed at it. Further, the state would save approximately $736,636 per year if it eliminates all four Court of Appeals judgeships.

Could’ve been worse

In his first year as Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Robert P. Young, Jr. could have felt a little disheartened to see the newly seated Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget. The governor is recommending that the judiciary’s budget for 2012 remain flat — no increases,no decreases — from the 2011 level, at roughly $260 million. He also recommended a negligible — 0.6 percent — increase for 2013’s $261.9 million judiciary budget.

Could’ve been worse, Young said.

What will allow the State Court Administrative Office, or SCAO, to work with that budget, which represents a 27 percent reduction in operations expenses since 2000, is that it also includes a recommendation to eliminate six trial court judgeships, which will save the state some $942,000.

It’s about time, if you ask Young.

“I’m actually optimistic and pleased,” he said. “In every prior year for at least the last 10 years, the judiciary budget has been cutting away at muscle, and has cut into the bone. …. We have been incredibly vocal in asking the governor and legislature to reduce the number of judgeships that are no longer required.”

The court’s discretionary budget is small, he said. About two-thirds of it is “untouchable,” as it involves judicial salaries. So as the cost of health care, energy, and retirement funding has rapidly increased, operations in the courts have had to become leaner – very lean, in fact.

Since 2000, the number of judicial employees has decreased by more than 20 percent, with the number of full time equivalent positions dropping from 526 to just 413.

So losing those six judgeships represents some badly needed wiggle room in the budget, Young said.

But that doesn’t mean he’s breathing easy. For starters, he said, even though Gov. Snyder has recommended the judgeship reductions, the legislature is going to find that “it’s no cakewalk” actually eliminating them. Politically, it’s going to be difficult, Young acknowledged, as communities are likely to be less than thrilled about losing those trial judges.

Also on Young’s mind is that just because the budget will be easier to manage as a result of that significant reduction in costs, the trends point to little to no growth in the judiciary budget, or any of the state’s departmental budgets, any time soon. And it doesn’t matter much to taxpayers that costs are rising, so he’d better find ways the courts can do more with less. So, since taking the chief justice’s seat this year, he has met with every director in SCAO, getting an understanding of how they operate and where there is room for further efficiency.

“Now that I’ve met with all the directors, I do have a sense of the substantial work they do. They are incredible in that regard,” he said. What he said he wants them to do now is to think like entrepreneurs.

“In government, there is no entrepreneurial instinct,” he said. “I’m trying to encourage them to look for more efficiencies, to break down silos, and to eliminate replication of efforts.”

He’s been pleased, he said, at how receptive the directors have been.

“When you take someone’s shackles off, they say, ‘Wow, I’ve never been asked to do anything other than work in shackles,'” Young said. “For ages, the idea has been ‘We do things this way because we’ve always done it this way.’ … I’m asking people to exercise judgment, to live dangerously.”

MSC, COA announce holiday hours

The Michigan Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the State Court Administrative Office will be closed for the holidays on Thursday, Dec. 23, Friday, Dec. 24, Thursday, Dec. 30 and Friday, Dec. 31.

The Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and SCAO will be open on Monday, Dec. 27, Tuesday, Dec. 28 and Wednesday, December 29.