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Need for second circuit judge is clear, as cases, safety issues mount

With the Marquette County Prosecutor’s office reporting a steady uptick in felony cases during recent years, local leaders are reiterating requests to reinstate a second judge position to the 25th Circuit Court.

A resolution passed by the Marquette County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday called for legislation to reinstate a second circuit court judge, citing a nearly 60% increase in felony filings since the county lost one of its judges in 2016.

Two circuit court judges were assigned to the county until the second judge position was eliminated by attrition at the end of 2016 due to legislation passed in 2011, according to the board’s resolution.

Now, Marquette County, which officials say handles nearly a quarter of the entire caseload in the Upper Peninsula, has a total of four judges, with only one in the circuit court.

And the ensuing backlog of cases can have disastrous consequences for victims, defendants, and the community as a whole, as Chocolay Township Police Chief and Marquette County Law Enforcement Association Chair Scott S. Jennings Jennings outlined in a letter of support.

“As these cases continue to lag, we’re seeing defendants committing new offenses while out on bond, leading to even further delays in completing the cases,” Jennings wrote. “This is directly impacting not only our agencies, but the victims and citizens of Marquette County that we serve and protect.”

The right to a fair and speedy trial is a fundamental aspect of our judicial system, and as Jennings aptly noted in his support letter, “justice delayed is justice denied.”

Furthermore, felony criminal cases aren’t the only matters that fall under the circuit court judge’s purview. Circuit court judges also handle divorce, paternity, family support, custody, parenting time disputes; lawsuits over $25,000; personal protection orders; all matters involving equitable relief, including injunctions and original writs; and appeals from the district court and administrative agencies.

We understand that reinstating a second circuit court judge would require the use of taxpayer dollars. We also recognize Marquette County’s lost judge position is just one small piece of the ongoing reduction and reallocation of judicial resources throughout the state as a cost-saving measure.

However, we believe it would be worth every penny if a second circuit court judgeship could promote — which we expect it would — a higher level of safety and justice in our community for victims, defendants and everyone in between.

We urge our state leaders and legislators to seriously consider reinstating this position, as it is clearly essential to the operations of the justice system, and by extension, protecting the rights and safety of Marquette County residents.

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