Do You Know Your Candidates?

by | Oct 10, 2016 | Off Topic

I recently hosted a gathering of non-lawyer friends and family to learn about a candidate for Circuit Court Judge that I am supporting, Lorie Savin. It was a fascinating event in many ways, not the least of which that I learned quite clearly just how unfamiliar most people are with our court system.

We vote for judges in every election, and yet most of us don’t know who they are or how they serve. We don’t even know the differences between the courts: district, circuit, appellate, and the Supreme Court. People don’t know how to start a lawsuit or how they get named in a lawsuit.

Traffic court is district court. Family court is circuit court. There’s a business division in circuit court, too.

I thought it might help to explain a little about how our court system works and the role of a judge.

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In Michigan, our state Constitution defines our court system, which begins at the highest level, the Michigan Supreme Court, and goes down through the ranks to the Court of Appeals, the Trial Courts: circuit, district and probate courts, and administrative or specialized courts. The Supreme Court oversees all of the other courts in the state.

Where you go is often determined by what the case focuses on and where the parties live or situation took place. 

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If you’re fighting a speeding ticket, you’ll likely go to the court in the county where you were pulled over by a police officer and given a citation.

In Michigan, our Supreme Court is comprised of seven elected judges who serve eight-year terms. State appeals court judges are also elected, and serve six years at a time. Vacancies can be filled by the governor.

The circuit courts, which cover counties, and the district courts, which are in more focused locales, are overseen by judges elected to six-year terms.

We have appellate courts in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Marquette. Michigan has 57 circuit courts, which hear serious criminal cases involving felonies, and civil suits where amounts exceed $25,000, along with divorces and related matters which are heard by the family division judges of the circuit court. District courts attend to less serious criminal offenses along with traffic violations, landlord-tenant matters, small claims and smaller amount civil suits.

But wait, there’s more! We have a Court of Claims to handle civil cases filed against the State of Michigan and its agencies and municipal courts in a few locations.

So there you have it. That’s the Michigan court system in a nutshell. In another blog, I will explain the hows and whys of lawsuits. In the meantime, please read up on the candidates for judges (and all other candidates!) before you vote this November. It may just be your biggest responsibility as an American citizen.

Important links:

State of Michigan courts

League of Women Voters – voting information

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