By Mary Drier
CARO — Besides several new personnel in the Tuscola County Courts, there is a new spirit of cooperation and teamwork being developed.
District Judge Kim Glaspie, who is the courts’ chief judge, Circuit Judge Amy Grace Gierhart and Probate Judge Nancy Thane formed a Judicial Council.
“With two new judges taking the bench this year we realized now was the time to make this move,” said Glaspie. “The resolution forming the Judicial Council says that we will make decisions by consensus, which really symbolizes the new era of cooperation that we are going to usher in.”
According to Glaspie, the council is working on a variety of projects that will improve the delivery of services to the public.
Some of the changes include: a concurrent jurisdiction plan, which will help the judges fill in for each other’s absences and more fairly divide the workload between each of them, producing improved and timelier decisions.
Working towards a unified collections plan, to help the public bring in every dollar that is owed.
Unifying the personnel policies of the three courts, reducing administrative burdens on the county in tracking separate vacation policies and other rules.
Combining three separate budgets into a single Tuscola County Trial Courts’ budget, to better leverage resources of the courts by pooling them together. Also, developing a court-wide Web site that will include user friendly tools, forms and information for the public.
According to Glaspie, the changes are expected to be completed by March 1.
The changes are just the last in a series of steps intended to unify administrative decisions across the circuit, probate and district courts in Tuscola County. Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court appointed Glaspie as chief judge for the entire county, rather than appointing separate judges for each of the three courts, as was done previously.
Also, as part of the changes Glaspie appointed Gierhart as chief judge “pro tempore,” which is a Latin term for authorizing someone to act in the absence of a superior. Thane will serve as the presiding judge of circuit court’s family division.
The three courts that make up the legal system each handle certain issues. District court generally handles misdemeanor criminal cases, civil action in disputes of no more than $25,000, landlord – tenant disputes, civil infractions and small claims. Probate court handles the dispositions of will, trusts and estates, the financial protection of incapacitated individuals, and proceedings under the mental health code. Circuit court hears felony criminal cases, civil claims over $25,000, divorce and child custody cases, and cases involving abuse, neglect, or delinquency of minors.
Also, as part of the new era of cooperation and transparency, the names of new hires in the court are now given. Previously, when someone was hired as a court employee or resigned from a court position; the previous chief judge, who is now retired, refused to give names.
Initially, when the information was sent to the commissioners during their meeting Tuesday the names of the new employees were not given.
“I can’t see why there has to be all this ‘cloak and dagger’ of whose is hired,” said County Commission Chair Thom Bardwell. “They are paid with public (taxpayer) funds.”
While the commissioners were discussing the matter, Glaspie was able to attend the meeting.
“The courts are not subject to the same disclosure by Freedom of information Act as the county,” Glaspie pointed out, but he did provide the names of those hired and the rationale for their pay.
He said that “Sandra Erskine” was hired as Friend of the Court – Attorney and at the highest step in the pay scale because of her years of experience; and that “Adam Pavlik” was hired has deputy court administrator and started at the beginning of the pay scale.
Glaspie concurred the previous relationship between the commissioners and courts with the former chief judge had been rocky at times, and recounted some instances of that.
“We appreciate the working relationship that we have with you,” said Bardwell.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.