Advance Notice: Briefs

Whitmer signs 1st bill, restores northern Michigan judge

By: - March 21, 2019 10:16 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Andrew Roth

Updated at 12:08 p.m. on March 22.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed her first bill Thursday — and it’s sponsored by a Republican.

The Democratic governor and Republican leaders have repeatedly stressed their intention to work together in this new era of divided government. They’ve had some major kerfuffles in the first few months of Whitmer’s tenure, but a plan to restore an Upper Peninsula judge position isn’t one of them.

Whitmer’s office announced that she signed Senate Bill 87, which restores the 95-A District Court in Menominee County after the position was eliminated in 2012. As the Advance reported, the position was axed after a 2011 Judicial Resources Recommendation (JRR) report said 45 judgeships should be dissolved, according to a nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency analysis of the Senate bill.

The plan flew through both the state House and Senate without opposition. No arguments against the legislation were presented in House committee hearings, according to the HFA analysis.

State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) introduced the legislation after the current district court judge for the 95th-A district, Judge Jeffrey Barstow, said he plans to retire at the end of March. His position would remain unfilled without the legislation.

Sen. Ed McBroom | Michael Gerstein

“This bill will ensure that the people of Menominee County have access to our judicial system and those struggling with addiction will have access to drug treatment court,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Senator McBroom and my partners in the Legislature to pass more bipartisan legislation that helps the people of Michigan moving forward.”

Cost savings from other judgeship eliminations and in increased caseload in Menominee spurred supporters of the bill to urge for another judge, which the county intends to put to work on forging a new drug court to handle cases fueled by opioid addiction.

Since 2011, 34 judgeships have been eliminated. At least 10 more will dissolve by attrition, according to John Nevin, a spokesman for the Michigan Supreme Court. 

In 2019, a district court judge salary is $149,656. But the total cost to the state is $170,815, due to an additional $21,159 in payroll taxes and retirements costs.*

The state will save almost $30 million by the end of 2019 from those cumulative savings, according to the State Court Administrative Office.

*Correction: The story incorrectly reported a district court judge salary.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.