Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Courting Disaster In Detroit

It's not just Detroit's city government, nor the corrupt county government for which Detroit is the seat, the rot and incompetence has similarly infested the Detroit District court.

The 36th District court, just like the city and county, is over-budget, inefficient, and stuffed with lots of featherbedding jobs with fat pensions while service and the administration of justice suffers.

Every lawyer I know hates going there due to both the waste of time to get anything done, and the expectation that the court will lose a document or even an entire file, which is met just about every time you go there or file with the court.

In one of the many long-suffering cases I had there, not only did they fail to process the proof of service for three months, leading to them dismissing the case for lack of service, but even after that was corrected they then took an additional six months to enter a default judgment after service was made - apparently the default application was sitting on the judge's desk somewhere and they'd eventually get around to it. Most other courts in Michigan by comparison will get a default application entered the same day it is filed or at most a week. The client was most unimpressed with the combined nine month delay in what was a very simple matter and the level of incompetence shown was only explicable in five words: "Forget it client, it's Detroit."

On another occasion, it took three hours to be heard on a traffic stop matter for a client, who had the misfortune of being stopped in Detroit, which was dismissed on a double technicality - not only did the officer leave the courtroom after two hours when we were finally heard in hour three, but the court had also lost the traffic ticket itself. It then took an additional hour to get a copy of the dismissal of the case, as you simply do not leave the court without written evidence the case was dismissed, for very obvious reasons.

The court is quite simply too big, too badly disorganized and too badly run to serve the city.

Change can't come soon enough to the worst-run court in Michigan, and The Michigan Supreme Court is finally stepping in:

The Detroit News: Detroit's 36th District Court faces big reforms

Talbot, who was appointed last month by the Michigan Supreme Court to oversee operations at the troubled court, said his plans include streamlining the way traffic tickets are processed. He said he will introduce an e-ticket system in which tickets are electronically transmitted from the police car to the courthouse. Under the current system, most officers write paper tickets, which are delivered to the courthouse.

Well, that may just end the easy string of technical dismissals based on the court consistently losing tickets.

Layoffs of unionized workers are likely and could include as many as 81 people, Talbot warned. Barring layoffs, union employees could face 10 percent pay cuts, he added.

Forty-nine non-union employees have already taken wage cuts and other benefit concessions, including changes to their health care plans and 13 unpaid holidays.

Talbot was assigned to the court after the National Center for State Courts found the 36th District Court was plagued by financial mismanagement, a backlogged docket and bloated payroll. Its report concluded the court was run by administrators unable or unwilling to change.

The court is $4.5 million over its $31 million budget and the report said the court has failed to collect on $279 million in driving tickets, ordinance violations and misdemeanor fines.

“They never followed the budget,” Talbot said of the court, which houses 31 judges and handles misdemeanors, traffic offenses and violations of city ordinances. “They didn’t seem to care.”

When you leave $279 million in unpaid tickets out there, yet run 4.5 million over your budget, the solution should have been quite simple to anyone with the competence to do some very basic math.

Competence in the Detroit District Court has, however, always been in short supply.

No comments: