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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, August 5, 2013

District Courts in Detroit and Pontiac Fiscally Challenged

The thing about district courts is the funding to make them operate; district courts do not have uniform funding across the state.  Funding for a district court depends on getting money from its political parent (the city or the county, or the state) and from the citizens within the community who get ticketed and brought into the court.

The district courts in Detroit and Pontiac are in financial trouble.  This is because they are self-funded courts, meaning they derive a significant portion of their operating budget from revenue generated from tickets and court costs assessed from the folks that appear in those courts.

In Detroit, the 36th District Court also relies on the City of Detroit's budget.  The current budget year has not been kind to the district court.  It requested a "bare bones" allocation of $36 million but only received $31 million.

More recently, the Michigan Supreme Court, concerned about the district court's fiscal health, appointed Court of Appeals Judge, and former Wayne County Circuit Judge Michael Talbot, as a special administrator of the 36th District Court.

In Pontiac, the Michigan Supreme Court has called for the elimination of two judges at the 50th District Court; also a self-funded court.  While the budget for the Pontiac court has gone up, the court's revenues from tickets and courts costs has eroded.

Both courts have seen administrative staff reductions.  Both courts are being asked by the Supreme Court to do more with less.

Like Detroit, the folks getting fined and assessed court costs in Pontiac just don't have the dough; the folks getting ticketed simply cannot afford to pay the fines, or do not pay the fines.  The courts can assess fines all-day-long, but if the local citizens cannot afford or refuse to pay them, then it amounts to phantom revenue.

Our lawyers are going from the 36th District Court, across the street to the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice all the time.  Often, we swing by the 50th in Pontiac on our way Eastside, or up to 1200 N. Telegraph.

So far, we have not noticed a disruption of service with the hard-working employees of those courts.  Let's see what happens as the operating budgets of those courts are brought into line with reality.

In our opinion here at the Law Blogger, while courts must run as efficiently as possible, the cost of justice is not something we can skimp on; the courts must stay open for business no matter what.

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