News Story

Every Judge Costs Michigan Taxpayers $450K

Legislation would reduce to number in the state

“Every judge costs taxpayers $450,000 annually,” says Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is planning to introduce legislation this fall to save money by reducing the number of judges.

“That includes everything,” Jones says of the $450,000 figure, “including the cost of the judge’s office. Obviously money goes to waste when some courts’ workloads are too small.”

Jones' legislation would execute recent recommendations from the State Court Administrative Office to reduce the total number of Michigan judgeships by six. This is on top of the 45 judgeships the administrative office recommended cutting in 2011 and 2013. When all the recommendations are fully implemented, taxpayer savings of $7.4 million annually are projected. The office, which is the administrative agency of the Michigan Supreme Court, estimates that over time the cumulative taxpayer savings will eventually exceed $193 million.

The judgeships would be eliminated through attrition — by not replacing the judges who retire, are constitutionally prohibited from running for re-election due to age, or who leave for other reasons. The administrative office issues its judicial resources report during odd-numbered years, with recommendations based on evaluations of the state’s overall court system. As in 2011 and 2013, this year it determined that the number of judgeships is not justified by the courts’ workload. Specifically, it recommended eliminating nine particular judgeships and adding three new ones where caseloads are heavier.

The biennial review involves weighting case filings to reflect the amount of judicial time necessary to handle each type of case. The report used as an example medical malpractice cases, which require much more judicial involvement than a civil infraction.

When the administrative office's statistical analysis indicates a significant judicial need or excess, a further analysis is conducted that focuses on local factors not accounted for in the weighted-caseload formula.

Within each judicial circuit, county-funded circuit, probate, and district courts are combined for analysis. District courts funded by cities and townships are analyzed independently from county-funded courts.

According to the administrative office, as a result of its 2011 and 2013 recommendations, 25 judgeships have already been eliminated with 20 more slated for elimination. Five additional judges were authorized by the Michigan Legislature, making for a net reduction of 40 seats. From 2011 through 2014, these reductions have, according to official estimates, saved taxpayers more than $6.1 million.