Club Updates

We are anticipating the arrival of our inbound exchange students at the end of summer. If you know of anyone who is interested in hosting an exchange student, please let our Rotary Youth Exchange committee numbers know.

20th Circuit Court

Our speaker was Holland Rotarian John Van Allsberg, 20th Circuit Court Chief Judge. John gave us a brief civics refresher course on the makeup of the US justice system. There are 3 levels of courts in both federal and state systems: Supreme court, Appeals Courts, and Trial Courts. In the state of Michigan the District Courts are the appeals courts and the Circuit Courts are the trial courts. However, District Courts handle civil cases and misdemeanors while felony cases start in the Circuit Courts but go to trial in the District courts.
Circuit Courts handle family and business cases with family being the largest division. Family courts handle domestic relations, child welfare, adoptions, juvenile trials, criminal and civil Personal Protection Orders (PPO), recovery of assets, and research.
The state of Michigan conducts periodic reviews of court operations. In the last review they determined that Ottawa County needed an additional Circuit Judge. A judge for this position will be elected in the November election.
From 2003-2021 there has been a downwards trend in the number of criminal and civil cases in Ottawa County. In the same period there was a large decline in juvenile cases. John attributes this to a large use of alternative resolutions other than court settlements. The courts work with non-profits in Ottawa County that offer mediation, counseling, substance abuse and other services. The remaining juvenile cases are extremely difficult situations.
The pandemic was an extremely challenging time for the Ottawa County Justice system. Trials continued during the pandemic; however jury trials were paused multiple times. The state of Michigan negotiated a contract with Zoom just before the pandemic started because they were exploring the use of on-line methods. When the pandemic hit every Judge in the state already had a license for the Zoom videoconferencing software.
There are positives and negatives to on-line hearings and trials. Having on-line capability has significantly increased attendance at court proceedings. Judges learned to look carefully at the background of the video to make sure that the person attending was not in a car driving down the road! Another challenge was to make sure that people who would ordinarily not be allowed in the courtroom were not able to hear the proceedings. A study found that on-line hearings take about 1/3 longer than in person hearings. A particular challenge is to display exhibits so they can be seen on every device that the participants might use. An advantage for attorneys is that they can attend hearings for clients in multiple courts without having to travel. A short video hearing does save time over an in-person hearing.
Ottawa County courts have been working hard to provide efficiency and access to justice for the citizens. Courts in Michigan are ranked on a number of factors by the state and Ottawa County has been at the top of the list. Last year there were 1700 cases in the trial courts and 56 actual trials. The courts collected about a half million dollars in restitution for crime victims. The Friend of the Court system is rated by the federal government and receives high ratings. 80% of child support due is collected in the month it is due. Ottawa County also has On-line Dispute Resolution software to help resolve disputes and connect with mediators when needed. Ottawa County has the only accredited juvenile center in the state of Michigan. The center offers many services, including schooling for those juveniles who are not welcome at any other school.