A sub-committee of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners met Monday night and moved a request forward dealing with changes to courtroom staffing.

The General Government & Health and Human Services Committee voted 3-1 to approve a resolution that would change a position from a part-time 20 hour deputy circuit court clerk to full time. Commissioner Wes Nakagiri was the opposing vote, saying he was reluctant to approve an increase for a change in docket and it comes down to a policy decision regarding appropriate levels of service. He did reach out to the courts and Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh, who is on vacation but was essentially told the resolution came from a different department.

The request was made by Clerk Elizabeth Hundley, who noted increased staffing demands and other issues related to court docket changes. The creation of a third circuit court seat, which was authorized by the board, is said to have impacted staffing requirements of the clerk’s legal division, which is separate from other court and judicial staff with different functions and duties. The Michigan Constitution and state laws require the county clerk to attend court sessions to perform mandated duties. Hundley had originally asked for the addition of one full time position for 2019 during the budget process but was asked to withdraw the request until after the newly created circuit court seat was operational. On February 4th, a local administrative order took effect that more evenly split up docket assignments between the three circuit court judges but it in turn also increased the number of court sessions for clerks, which Hundley says has reinforced the need for anther courtroom clerk.

Commission Chair Don Parker was in the audience and spoke during call to the public. Parker said he understands there is division of powers between the funding unit, the county clerk who has her own constitutional obligations and the court system. He noted the county clerk has said, and rightly so, that she has to deal with the situation as it is in terms of how the judges divide their docket. Parker said he thinks something that needs to be explored both at finance committee and the full board with the resolution and questioned if it could be accomplished with just scheduling and coordination amongst the circuit court judges - rather than adding a half FTE. An FTE is the hours worked by one employee on a full-time basis. Parker reminded the committee that one judge will be leaving April 12th with the retirement of Judge David Reader and he’s not sure if a visiting judge will be brought in. He says that would be a 100% local share because the state bars not taking applications for the appointment until the following Tuesday or April 16th so it’s possible the Governor won’t make the appointment until May. Parker said something needs to be explored as they have talked about pension liabilities at length and are now talking about adding to it, with something that could possibly be accomplished by the circuit judges making changes and coordinating schedules. Parker added he thought Nakagiri was very responsible in reaching out to courts and also that county clerk is being responsible but it’s not all one way. Parker said they have always been generous with court system, which is appropriate, but everything raised was also appropriate and needs to be explored more fully.

The resolution now heads to Finance Committee and ultimately, the full board for further discussion and possible action. (JM)