Chief Justice Turns in Free Ride

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan's top judge is giving up his taxpayer-bought vehicle and urging other judges to join him as the state faces a budget deficit.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Clifford Taylor planned to announce the move Monday at the state's annual judicial conference in Dearborn, where he also will call on the Legislature to reduce the number of judgeships -- either through attrition or early retirement incentives.
"We have to do our part," Taylor told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "I felt for us to keep the morale of our staff and to keep these fine people interested in staying with the court, judges should share the sacrifice."
Supreme Court justices, appeals judges and some of their staff members get vehicles that can be driven for work and personal use, a perk dating to the 1960s. The vehicles are part of judges' compensation. But they came under scrutiny in a recent Detroit Free Press story, and lawmakers said they would craft legislation to end the practice.
Taylor on Friday told the other Supreme Court justices of his decision to voluntarily turn in his 2005 Ford Five Hundred. Three justices -- Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markman and Robert Young Jr. -- agreed to follow his lead. Justices Michael Cavanagh, Marilyn Kelly and Elizabeth Weaver were considering his proposal over the weekend, Taylor said.
Taking away judges' cars would affect a tiny fraction of the overall state budget -- perhaps more than $400,000 -- but "it has taken on symbolic significance," Taylor said.
As with other state employees, judges now using their own vehicles to travel on court business would be reimbursed for their mileage. Some have questioned whether taking away the vehicles will save much money. Appeals judges travel to Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids and occasionally the Upper Peninsula to hear cases.
Michigan's judiciary branch is confronting the likelihood of $2.9 million in spending cuts this budget year under versions of bills approved by the House and Senate. That likely will result in judicial workers being laid off or furloughed, Taylor said.
"We need to do some very dramatic things," he said.
Taylor, who thinks Michigan has too many judges, said legislators should cut the 28-judge state Court of Appeals by four judges, or one in each appeals district. The appeals court received 12,000 case filings a year in the early 1990s, and that number is now down to about 7,500 per year, according to Taylor.
"I'm not talking about doing this in an unpleasant or draconian way," he said, adding that a number of older appeals judges might consider early retirement incentives.
Taylor also estimates that 10 to 14 of the state's 586 trial judgeships could be eliminated through attrition and retirement incentives. The Legislature has added judgeships, but doing away with them has proven to be more difficult and controversial.
Typically, new judges are added in growing areas such as Kent, Oakland and Macomb counties, while proposals to eliminate judgeships would hit urban areas with declining populations such as Genesee and Wayne counties.
"We just have more judges than we need," Taylor said.
Supreme Court justices make $164,610 a year. Appeals judges earn $151,441 annually.

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