Former Judge Nelson to Fill in for Wheeler

The 22nd circuit court of Washtenaw County has announced that retired judge Charles Nelson will be serving as a full-time visiting judge to absorb the docket of judge Nancy Wheeler, who has gone on extended medical leave. Her term as judge does not expire until January 2015. The news was posted on the court’s website and distributed via email by the Washtenaw County Bar Association on the morning of Friday, Jan. 20.

Other judges will manage Wheeler’s docket for the week of Jan. 23, 2012. However, beginning Jan. 30, Nelson will assume Wheeler’s docket on a full-time visiting judge basis. It appears that there will be no interruption to service by the court. Nelson retired in 2006 from the Jackson County 4th circuit court. In the summer of 2011, Nelson returned to that court as a visiting judge to handle a medical malpractice case.

The assignment of Nelson to the position came from the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO), which is the administrative agency of the Michigan Supreme Court. The SCAO is enabled under Article VI, Section 3 of the Michigan Constitution, which states that the Michigan Supreme Court “shall appoint an administrator of the courts and other assistants of the supreme court as may be necessary to aid in the administration of the courts of this state.”

The SCAO sets forth criteria for assignment of retired judges as visiting judges, including among others a stipulation that the visiting judge may not have a law practice or have left the bench due to an electoral defeat. [.pdf of assignment procedures] The SCAO maintains of list of retired judges who are willing to serve as visiting judges. They’re assigned at the request of the local court.

Former judges who come out of retirement to serve on a court are paid per day – but only the difference between their pension and what someone currently serving as a judge is paid. [.pdf of Act 236 of 1961 on retired judges pay]

Local jurisdictions have some legal flexibility to pay their circuit court judges additional amounts. But in order to receive reimbursement from the state, the local and state components of a circuit judge salary must add up to 85% of the salary of a Michigan supreme court justice. Michigan supreme court justices are currently paid $164,610. That works out to $139,919 per year for circuit court judges, or roughly $560 per working day. [.pdf of Act 236 of 1961 on circuit judge salary]

The circuit court is a trial court of general jurisdiction, including criminal cases like felonies and certain serious misdemeanors, as well as civil cases involving amounts greater than $25,000.