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Fast Track Set For Bill Making Major Change To Michigan Courts

By Zachary Gorchow
Posted: October 30, 2013 12:12 PM

Last Thursday, I got a call from a source who asked me if I had taken a look at SB 652*, which had been introduced earlier in the day.

I had not, so I checked it out, and my immediate reaction roughly rhymed with the words “Moldy bit.”

The bill would strip the Ingham Circuit Court of its status as the state’s Court of Claims, which gives it the critical role of serving as the trial court for all litigation against state government involving more than $1,000. Instead, the Supreme Court would appoint four judges from the Court of Appeals to serve as the new Court of Claims.

So what, right?

No, this is a big deal.

Many major cases have arisen against state government, especially since Governor Rick Snyder took office. Ingham County is a solidly Democratic county, and most of its circuit court judges either have a history of activity in Democratic causes or have tended to rule for unions and other Democratic interests with cases before the court.

The Court of Appeals has several judges from both the Democratic and Republican spheres, but the Supreme Court, which would make the appointments, has a 5-2 majority of justices nominated by the Republican Party. Maybe the Supreme Court would decide to appoint, say, two appeals judges named to the bench by a Democratic governor and two by a Republican governor, but that would be a surprise.

So this has all the makings a major shift in the philosophy of the judges on the Court of Claims.

And oh my (nod to longtime Detroit Free Press columnist Hugh McDiarmid Sr.), is this bill moving fast in the Republican-controlled Legislature. After its Thursday introduction, it won committee approval Tuesday and minutes ago passed the Senate on a party-line vote today.

It would be a surprise if the House did not move with dispatch to put this bill on Mr. Snyder’s desk.

Former Governor John Engler famously had a public feud with former Ingham Circuit Judge James Giddings, at one point ripping him as a “lunatic.” Mr. Engler happens to be in Detroit today. If someone wants to get a grin from the former governor, they might want to pass him the news about today’s action in the Senate.

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