Ingham County Judges Testify Against Court of Claims Reform

By: News 10
By: News 10

Chief Ingham County Circuit Judge Janelle Lawless says the legislation attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.  “It is very complicated and I think that right now, even those of us that are involved with it are trying to come to terms with exactly what does it all mean?”

If you want to fight state government, your lawsuit goes through Ingham County Circuit Court. But a bill on the fast track at the State Capitol, would change that. The legislation takes the state’s Court of Claims out of Ingham County, and moves it to the State Court of Appeals. Republican Senator Rick Jones of Grand Ledge introduced the bill. He says judges elected by just 3% of the state’s population should not have control of the Court of Claims.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ingham County’s Circuit Court Judges fought back, and testified before the House Committee on Government Operations. The crowd spilled out the door, and into an overflow room at the State House Building in downtown Lansing.

Four Ingham County Circuit Judges sat side by side, making their case against Senate Bill 652. They told a house committee to reject the legislation, that would revamp the state’s Court of Claims. Chief Ingham County Circuit Judge Janelle Lawless says the legislation attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. “It is very complicated and I think that right now, even those of us that are involved with it are trying to come to terms with exactly what does it all mean?”

Supporters say the bill distributes judicial power, giving it to the judges elected by all Michigan voters. But those on Ingham County’s bench, say the Appellate Court already has a say. Ingham County Circuit Judge Clinton Canady said, "All cases are appealable by right. So the court of claims actually is sitting as a fact finder, the facts go to the Court of Appeals where the Court of Appeals makes the decision whether they agree or not."

Many who testified Tuesday, agree the legislation leaves more questions than answers. Ingham County CIrcuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina appealed to House lawmakers, saying "This is much larger than all of you are looking at. You need to refer this to appropriations to look at the money, you need to refer it to judiciary, you need to answer a whole lot of questions before this comes out. Your constituency, if you vote this out, should be ashamed of you."

Shortly after testimony, the House Committee voted to pass Senate Bill 652. It has already passed in the full Senate and will go to the full House floor for vote on Wednesday. Republican Senator Rick Jones defends the bill, saying it provides greater access to the courts, and will save money. But Democrat Representative Sam Singh of East Lansing calls it a political power grab.


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