Law that raises millions in local courts challenged in Michigan Supreme Court

Detroit — The Michigan Supreme Court was urged Wednesday to strike down a law that forces people convicted of crimes to pay millions of dollars for the everyday costs of running local courts.

The challenge comes at a key time: The law expires in October and a decision from the Supreme Court would affect how the Legislature responds.

Critics say it’s unconstitutional for a judge to oversee a criminal case and also have the power to order someone to pay a share of keeping the lights on, the building clean and office supplies stocked.

The money goes to a court’s local government, but only people convicted of crimes must pay, not others who use the courts. Nothing is deducted from the budget of prosecutors who lose cases.

“The important conflict of interest here is the fact that judges, when imposing sentence and deciding whether to impose court costs, have to factor in this fundraising element,” said Angeles Meneses, an attorney for Travis Johnson, who is challenging $1,200 in fines in Alpena County.