Genesee District Court judges have filed a motion with the Michigan Court of Appeals to temporarily halt the planned closure of satellite district courts by the county. The judges argue that the county and county Board of Commissioners should be required to justify the closures in court, claiming that the actions are unlawful and that judges have the authority to determine court locations. The lawsuit alleges that the county’s actions violate the constitution, as the commissioners did not explicitly vote to close up to six satellite courts, and that they also violated the law by deviating from the budget they adopted.
The judges threatened legal action last week after the commissioners adopted a capital improvement plan that aimed to reduce the number of local district courts to no more than two locations. The plan calls for centralized district court operations at the McCree Courts & Human Services Building in downtown Flint, a facility that the judges argue lacks the capacity to accommodate all court functions on a full-time basis. Local elected officials and police have also expressed opposition to the plan.
County Director of Administration Joshua Freeman had informed court officials earlier this month that at least two local courts would close by the end of January, with two more scheduled to be shuttered by the end of March. The capital improvement plan aims to save over $21 million in operating costs over the next nine years by closing satellite courts, with the exception of the Fenton and Grand Blanc courts, which are slated to close in the first quarter of 2024.
The judges’ lawsuit states that they were never consulted about the closure plan and unanimously oppose it. They argue that the District Court has historically operated at each of the seven existing district court locations for the past fifty years. The judges are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction from the Court of Appeals to prevent further closures and to award attorney fees.
District courts have jurisdiction over civil matters with a controversy value of less than $25,000 and handle criminal matters including misdemeanors and preliminary examinations in felony cases. Satellite courts have been in operation for decades, providing convenience for residents living outside of Flint. According to the lawsuit, a court must operate in Flint, Flushing, Fenton, and Grand Blanc due to the area’s population and must also remain in Burton, Davison, and Mt. Morris, based on judges’ determinations.