Veterans Group Urges Council to Reject Court Consolidation

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Friday, April 26, 2019, 8:25 am
Dan Totzkay

There is “nothing to gain” from the consolidation of the East Lansing, Lansing, and Ingham County District Courts, say the Friends of Ingham County Veterans’ Treatment Court in an April 22nd letter sent to the East Lansing City Council and shared with ELi.

Citing no immediate cost-savings nor guaranteed protection of the East Lansing-based District 54B Court’s drug treatment programs if consolidation happens, the Friends of the veterans court “strongly oppose” consolidation of East Lansing’s, Lansing’s, and Ingham County’s district courts.

The directors of the group believe that consolidation would “introduce a great deal of instability in the currently successful Treatment Courts in [the] 54B District Court.”

The Ingham County Veterans Treatment Court, run out of East Lansing’s 54B District Court, “promotes sobriety, recovery and stability through a coordinated response to the veteran’s need” by diverting “eligible veteran-defendants from the traditional court process to a specialized criminal court docket.”

Veterans are eligible for the court if they are “dependent upon or abusing drugs or alcohol or have a mental illness” and have a criminal charge pending in Ingham County or are an Ingham County resident and have a criminal charge pending in a County without a treatment court.

Defendants in the veterans court are provided treatment and rehabilitation services without the “traditional adversarial courtroom relationship” between prosecutor and defense attorneys in court. Instead, veterans receive work with both as a “team” that is focused on “the veteran’s recovery and law-abiding behavior.”

Strong opposition to consolidation also has come from those who have found themselves or their loved ones helped by the drug treatment court run out of 54B. That program has been lauded for its success.

As it stands, the only guarantee of the consolidation process is that no employee of the three now-separate courts can be terminated as a result of the consolidation. Otherwise, the role employees fill and the services the courts provide – included through the specialty courts - could be changed substantially by whoever the County-wide Chief Judge would be.

An April 1 Preliminary Fiscal Analysis obtained by ELi via FOIA projects that combining the three courts would only reduce costs after approximately 7 employees across the three courts quit or retire.

As ELi previously reported, the City of East Lansing, Ingham County, and the City of Lansing are currently discussing the consolidation of their respective District Courts. Under consolidation, Lansing’s 54A District Court and East Lansing’s 54B District Court – currently run independently – would become part of a single Ingham County 55th District Court.

There is still little known publicly about the consolidation negotiations. Mayor Mark Meadows has been representing East Lansing in the closed-door discussions to which the public has not been invited. He has said he expects to have information available in the summer.

A majority of East Lansing’s City Council would be charged with the decision about whether or not to abolish East Lansing’s 54B District Court by accepting consolidation.


Photo: Marines at East Lansing's Veterans Day wreath-laying ceremony last November. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info