Thursday, July 22, 1999

Legislature, unions to judge
courts’ reorg proposal

By Ian Lind


The state courts have announced an extensive reorganization aimed at increasing efficiency and developing greater levels of customer service.

But much of it could hit a dead end unless it gets the backing of the Legislature and public employee unions.

"The economy gave us the push to re-examine the whole system," said Administrative Director Michael Broderick. The yearlong planning process resulted in a 29-point plan dealing with administrative structure, court functioning and personnel practices.

Broderick said union leaders were only provided copies of the plan within the past week, but earlier indicated a "wait-and-see attitude."

Bullet Consolidation. The plan envisions collapsing 26 existing administrative units into just three divisions. A Support Services Division would include personnel and fiscal functions. A Policy and Planning Division incorporate planning and budgeting, auditing, computer services, and several training functions. A Legislative and Community Relations Division would include programs ranging from the public affairs office and Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution to the Judicial History Center and Law Library.

Probation offices would be consolidated into an Adult and a Juvenile Division.

Bullet A one-tier court system. "We wouldn't have District Court judges and Circuit Court judges, we would just have judges," Broderick said of a proposal to form a single level of trial courts. Details of this proposal, such as the minimum qualifications of judges, have not been determined, Broderick said. Currently, an attorney must have 10 years experience to serve as a Circuit Court judge, but only five years for a District Court appointment.

Bullet Civil service reform. The Judiciary is asking for flexibility in hiring and disciplining employees, and is seeking authority for a merit-based pay system. Broderick did not rule out a merit system that would replace the existing system of collective bargaining.

Bullet User fees. The plan proposes charging attorneys to borrow books from the Supreme Court law library and also proposes fees to be paid by people on probation.

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