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Proposed legislation to restore judge position the right move

While 2020 was full of alarming numbers related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the year brought with it another dismal figure: felony filings in Marquette County more than doubled in less than 10 years, going from an annual average of 224 cases in 2011 to the 471 cases reported in 2020.

This increase has stretched the resources of the county’s criminal justice system to its limits. It’s particularly evident in the county’s circuit court, which has only a single judge to handle hundreds — if not thousands — of criminal, civil and family-related matters each year. This has led to delays and backlogs in the county’s court system, which can have disastrous consequences for victims, defendants, and the entire community.

Due to this, the Marquette County Board of Commissioners in February called for legislation to reinstate a second circuit court judge, citing a substantial increase in felony filings since the county lost one of its two judges at the end of 2016 due to legislation passed in 2011. At the time, we used this space to join the board in urging our state leaders and legislators to consider the request, as a second circuit court judge is clearly essential to the operations of the justice system, and by extension, protecting the rights and safety of Marquette County residents.

Now, we’re glad to report there has been some movement in Lansing on the matter, as legislation to restore a second seat to the 25th Circuit Court in Marquette County was introduced in the state Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The proposed legislation — Senate Bill 356, sponsored State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, and House Bill 4656, introduced by state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette — is critical for the Marquette County justice system, which officials say handles nearly a quarter of the entire caseload in the Upper Peninsula.

We recognize this will likely 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 commend Cambensy and McBroom for taking action on this long-standing issue in a bipartisan matter, as these bills are a prime example of legislation that directly promotes the safety, justice and well-being of residents. We also urge their fellow lawmakers to help pass this proposed legislation, as when legislators are willing to set aside partisan and geographic differences to implement meaningful change, our entire state benefits.

The impacts of delayed justice — which has been aptly equivocated to denied justice — can have disastrous ripple effects that pay no mind to political borders or allegiances, meaning this investment in Marquette County is likely to have benefits that stretch far beyond the county’s geographic area.

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