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High marks for local courts on surveys, but some declines

News Photo by Julie Riddle Judge Erik Stone presides over a Presque Isle County courtroom on Thursday. The county received positive marks for courtesy and fairness in state surveys.

ALPENA — Local courts are polite, fair, and efficient, recent survey participants agreed — but, in some cases, not as polite, fair, and speedy as they used to be.

A public satisfaction survey, administered periodically at all Michigan courts by order of the State Court Administrative Office, asks those who use the courts to rate the treatment they receive.

In Alpena courts, most users are satisfied or very satisfied with the politeness of court staff, the outcome of their case, and their understanding of what happens in a courtroom.

While scores for Alpena’s District Court rose over the past three surveys administered, satisfaction with the county’s Circuit Court declined in the eyes of its users, according to the survey.

As required by the state, local court officials offer the survey to people who enter courthouses during a designated window of dates every few years. At least 20 responses must be collected.

A survey scheduled for 2020 was canceled because of coronavirus-related safety concerns.

Since 2015, most people surveyed agree or strongly agree that Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court and probate court work at a reasonable speed, are courteous, and are fair.

Over the past three surveys, however, survey respondents have gotten less enthusiastic about how they are treated in Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court.

None of the questions and their multiple-choice responses offered explanations as to what may have sparked change in respondent opinions between survey years.

Whatever the reason for the slip, earning back public satisfaction with the courts is a matter of remembering that all court employees are public servants, said Judge Ed Black.

“I believe in customer service,” said Black.

A court can’t aim to make everyone happy, but it can treat everyone with dignity and respect, no matter which side they’re on or what their station in life, Black said.

About half of respondents said they strongly agree that they were able to get their court business done in a reasonable amount of time.

In 2015, half of people surveyed said they felt strongly that their case was handled fairly. In 2018, only a third of people said the same thing.

Court staff received consistent marks for courtesy, but strong satisfaction with treatment by circuit court judges fell from 66% in 2015 to 43% in 2018.

Only one out of five people were very confident that the outcome of their case in Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court had been favorable to them in 2018 — a marked drop from 2015, when half of people left court with that assurance.

A third of people involved in Circuit Court cases left their hearings with a solid understanding of what went on in 2018. Three years earlier, that confidence level was twice as high.

Check out the interactive graphic below with data from court satisfaction surveys. Story continues below graphic.

In another Alpena Courtroom, people who came into the 88th District Court have been increasingly pleased with what they found there, according to the surveys.

Respondents strongly agreed that court staff and judges at District Court were polite and respectful, with approval ratings increasing with each survey.

By 2018, three of every four survey-takers said they conducted their business and left in a reasonable amount of time, up from about half of respondents three years before.

Circuit courts in outlying counties, on the whole, keep the people who use them satisfied, the surveys indicate.

In Alcona County, a consistent three out of four people said that they were able to conduct their business in court in a timely manner. The court also received high marks for politeness, with 93% of those surveyed saying they were treated with respect by court staff in 2018.

Three of every four four people in an Alcona County Circuit Court case walked away feeling like their case was resolved in their favor, according to the survey.

About half of people leaving Montmorency County courtrooms strongly felt they understood what had happened during their court hearing in 2018, a slight decline from previous years. Treatment by a judge or magistrate was strongly appreciated by half of the most recent survey-takers in Montmorency County in the most recent survey — a drop from 75% enthusiastic approval in previous years.

Half of those involved in cases in Presque Isle County feel they had a favorable outcome in their case, survey respondents indicated.

Presque Isle County courts received high marks for timeliness, politeness, and fairness, with three of four survey respondents indicating each year that they had been treated well by court staff and participants. Most people felt comfortable that they understood what happened in the courtroom.

Statewide, courts received highest marks for courtesy on the part of court staff. Consistently, although only half of respondents strongly agree that a case went their way, almost 100% of people asked still agreed that the court workers assisting them were polite and respectful.

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