STANTON — A local attorney is proposing one local judge each serve the 8th Judicial Circuit Court district for Montcalm and Ionia counties.
However, Montcalm County commissioners are unimpressed with the idea.
Ronald Finegood of Stanton originally submitted his proposal to the Board of Commissioners on March 27. The matter was referred to the Law Enforcement & Courts Committee, which convened Monday.
“As a citizen and homeowner of Montcalm County, I am concerned that we in Montcalm County are not represented by a county resident on the 8th Circuit Court bench,” Finegood stated.
Chief Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger resides in Belding while Judge David Hoort resides in Portland — both in Ionia County.
Finegood himself ran for 8th Judicial Circuit Court judge in the August 2008 primary election. He came in third after Kreeger, who received the most votes, and Patrick Duff. Kreeger went on to be elected judge in November 2008.
“I ask this honorable Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution urging our state’s Legislature to pass a bill which provides that each of the counties that make up the 8th Circuit Court shall be entitled to elect one judge from their respective county, or in the alternative that the 8th Circuit Court be split into two separate Circuit Courts, with each court electing their own judge from one of its citizens,” Finegood stated. “In favor of this change would be a significant financial savings to our county in this time of shrinking revenue.”
Finegood did not present details of the “significant financial savings.” Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer said the county pays a maximum of $4,000 to $5,000 per year to each judge for mileage expenses, as the two judges rotate between Ionia and Montcalm counties each week.
“I think it’s a fundamental right of representation,” Finegood said. “I think all of us should be concerned. We would like to be represented. I think there are a lot of people in this community who would support this move. I don’t see any downside to it.”
Montcalm County commissioners were left wanting more information about the proposal, which would require a resolution from Ionia and Montcalm counties, Hoort and Kreeger and state legislators before a law could be passed making the change.
“There may be some good reasons to consider it, but … it is not our battle to fight,” said Commissioner Roger Caris of Vestaburg. “The system is set up. There’s not an overwhelming interest to my knowledge. This is the first time we’ve heard about it from one person. I’m very reluctant to move ahead.”
Commissioner Betty Kellenberger of Carson City agreed, noting, “If there’s a public push, they’re not coming my way.”
Commissioner Ron Retzloff of Crystal pointed out that some court employees are union members, meaning Hyzer would have to talk with union representatives to pursue the matter. Finegood said he wasn’t aware some court employees were union members.
“At this point, obviously, we don’t have enough information to make a recommendation,” Retzloff said.
Finegood was not discouraged by this response, saying he was willing to do more research and revisit the issue before commissioners again.
“I think you’re missing an opportunity,” he said. “I’m going to see if I can find some community support. I think it’s there.”