In 1996 an amendment to the state constitution was approved, requiring judges in the Michigan state court system to have five year's experience at the state bar to qualify for a judicial position.
Michigan District Court
District court handles traffic violations, civil cases up to $25,000, landlord-tenant disputes, and misdemeanor criminal cases punishable by one year or less in jail. Small claims cases are decided by a division of the district court. There are about 100 district courts in Michigan. District court judges are elected for six-year terms. There were about 2.8 million new cases filed before the courts in 2015.
Michigan Municipal Courts
The municipal courts are located in Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Park, and Grosse Point Shores/Grosse Pointe Woods and have limited jurisdiction. There were about 25,000 new cases filed before the court in 2015.
Michigan Probate Court
There are 78 probate courts that handle wills, estates and trusts, guardianships, and treatment of mentally ill and developmentally disabled persons. Judges are elected for six-year terms. There were about 62,000 new cases filed before the court in 2015. When combined with pending cases the total caseload for probate courts was about 72,000.
Michigan Circuit Court
Circuit courts handle civil cases of more than $25,000 and all felony criminal cases as well as cases appealed from the other trial courts or administrative agencies. There are 57 circuit courts; all 221 judges at this level are elected to six-year terms by voters.
The family division of circuit court handles all cases regarding divorce, paternity, adoptions, restraining orders, emancipation of minors, name changes, juvenile offenses and delinquency, juvenile guardianship, and child abuse and neglect. There were about 142,000 cases before family courts in 2015.
The Court of Claims is a specialized division of circuit court limited to deciding claims over $1,000 filed against the State of Michigan or one of its departments.
In 2015 the circuit courts saw about 95,000 new cases filed. When combined with pending cases and reopened cases, the grand total before the court was about 144,000.
Michigan Court of Appeals
Created in 1965 this is an "'intermediate" court between the Circuit Court (where trials take place) and the Supreme Court. Those who disagree with a Circuit Court decision may appeal to this court. Here, 28 judges occupy the bench but cases are heard by a panel of three judges who read the case record and take oral arguments but do not hear original testimony. The decision is based on whether the judge in the original case accurately applied the law. The court hears about 6,000 cases a year, and sits in Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids as well as northern Michigan.
Originally set at nine judges, the Michigan Legislature has steadily increased that number to 12 in 1969, eventually reaching 28 in 1993. In 2012, new legislation reset the court's 4 districts to 6 judges each, resulting in an eventual transition to 24 total judges.
In 2013, the number of cases filed before the Court of Appeals had declined to about 5,700 from a high of 7,900 in 2006.
Michigan Supreme Court
An individual may file an "'application for leave to appeal" seeking the Supreme Court's review of a lower court decision. The court receives about 2,000 such applications each year and hears about 100 cases. They do not hear original testimony but review the record of a case and listen to brief oral arguments from both sides. Their primary task is to determine the constitutionality of proceedings. Seven justices sit on the court, elected by voters to eight-year terms.
Michigan Notable Court Cases
An attorney and former law professor lost a case against a man who made a parody of the attorney's Twitter account and posted references to drug use and veiled references to earning easy grades through buying the man drinks. When the case was before the Michigan Court of Appeals the court reviewed the offending posts and decided the name of the account as well as its content was intended as a parody and was protected under the First Amendment. The attorney had argued that the imposter account cost him business and made it impossible for him to continue teaching.
The legalization of same-sex marriage does not extend retroactive parental rights to past partners, says the Michigan Supreme Court. Two lesbians had sued for parental rights to see children from past relationships, prior to the legalization of same sex marriage. The partner of one woman had three children during their relationship and even took the other woman's last name but denied visitation after the relationship ended. Her attorney argued that they were essentially married and deserved the same rights. The Supreme Court decided that because neither woman was the biological mother of the children nor there was a retroactive provision to same-sex marriage, their complaints were null. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear the cases.