Township approves 48th District Court budget
By Dana Casadei
Nearly $1.5 million was approved by the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees for the 48th District Court’s 2024-2025 budget during their meeting on Monday, November 27.
Patrick Dunn, court administrator, informed the board they were able to keep the total amount for the budget the same from last year, and due to a lower caseload, Bloomfield Township’s advancement to the court did in fact decrease slightly from 2023, totaling $1,487,422 for next year.
Dunn noted that even though costs went up in areas like utilities and medical, which had a four percent increase in the 2024 budget request compared to the one in 2023, the court was able to save money by not bringing on any new personnel, only hiring to fill positions when someone had left, as well as a massive decrease in the 2024 budget for a variety of operating expenses, such as a 54.25 percent decrease in information systems.
Bloomfield Township will advance the court $1,487,422. It is one of three funding units for the court’s operations due to an agreement executed between the funding units in 2021. West Bloomfield Township and Birmingham are the other two funding units. The three funding communities advance monies to the court to fund its costs.
The cost each funding unit pays for the court’s overall requested budget – which totals $4,834,000 for 2024 – is based on the 2022 audited case load percentages.
Since Birmingham had the highest caseload at 38.60 percent, the city is being asked to advance $1,865,924 to the court, compared to the $1,487,422 that was approved by Bloomfield Township, and $1,480,654 for West Bloomfield Township.
The motion passed 5-0 to provide the advancement of funds. Clerk Martin Brook and trustee Stephanie Fakih were not in attendance at the Monday night meeting.
The 48th District court serves the Charter Townships of Bloomfield and West Bloomfield, and the cities of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake Village and Sylvan Lake.
Throughout his presentation, Dunn focused not only on the court’s finances, but also all the court had done throughout the year, and what planned as 2023 comes to a close.
In April, the court launched the second leg of the Clean Slate Act. And while the first leg allowed for those eligible to fill out an application and come before a sentencing judge to try to have their case set aside or become expunged, the second leg created an automatic process to set aside eligible convictions without requiring an individual to file an application. This began on April 11, 2023, and Dunn said on the first day there were about 13,000 charges automatically set aside. Now, the number that have been automatically set aside on the court’s case management system is nearly 100,000.
Given that the records at the 48th District court go back over 40 years ago, Dunn said they are now fielding quite a few calls from people with records requests wanting to know if their case had been automatically set aside and to be sure it had not gone public.
The second project Dunn spoke about will begin on December 5, when the court goes live with the electronic filing system, MiFILE. The goal of MiFILE is to ensure that litigants are able to electronically file documents, 24 hours a day, no matter where they are, and to receive documents and notifications from the court in this same way.
Dunn said the team was excited to be selected by the state to partake in this, and have been training for months.
“We’re going to be dipping our toe into the water, with the end goal that everything eventually goes electronic,” he said.
To start, the court will focus on electronic filing for cases that fall under general civil, small claims and summary proceedings. All attorneys will be required to submit filings with the court this way as of December 5.
Given how paper-driven the court still is, Dunn said he hopes this electronic filing process will not only cut down on storage but save money long-term as well, and make the court more efficient. The state will take over updates and security measures when it comes to their server to store case management system moving forward.
“I’m pleased to see the court becoming more electronically driven,” said trustee Neal Barnett. “That’s so helpful not only for the attorneys, but in the long run for clients, and as you mentioned storage, saving a lot of money that way also. It’s a real benefit to everyone.”
After Dunn’s presentation but before the motion was passed trustee Barnett asked if there had been any efforts to try to bring Bloomfield Hills back in as an equal partner to the court.
While Dunn only said that their departure, as well as the operating agreement between the funding units, is a contract the court isn’t a party to, supervisor Dani Walsh did have some insight and background.
A year ago in January, there had been discussions of Birmingham pulling out, and there still are discussions of that, a decision that Walsh said would be catastrophic.
This then led to the discussion of what would happen if they did leave, including if Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills would then go on their own or not.
“The reality of the cost of running their own courts is kind of what’s keeping everyone together, but, statutorily, Bloomfield Hills is a third district who are not forced into the funding, they have to opt in,” she said.
What Birmingham is currently asking the four smaller cities to do is give up all revenue – some of which isn’t even over $10,000 – and donate it to the three funding units. But in order for that to happen Bloomfield Hills, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake Village and Sylvan Lake would all have to agree to it.
As of the last meeting Walsh attended with the other funding units, those four cities had not agreed to this.
Walsh had also not heard any push from Bloomfield Hills to opt back into the funding, and said there would likely be a special meeting in January to discuss all of this again, as well as the fact that Bloomfield Township’s portion of the funds for the 2024-2025 budget had decreased.