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Panel Appointed to Examine Indigent Criminal Defense

Clarkston Legal Nov. 1, 2011

This past week, Governor Rick Snyder issued an executive order appointing 10 people to serve on an “advisory commission”. Their mission: to quickly assess and make recommendations to the executive and legislature about the delivery of effective legal representation to the indigent accused.

Along with the 10 gubernatorial appointees, the commission also includes state legislative leaders from each political party; two from the state house and two from the state senate.

In reviewing the Governor’s appointments, it was good to see Waterford & Clarkston well represented. Waterford & Clarkston Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brien is on the commission along with former Waterford & Clarkston Bar Association President Judith Gracey.

The problem presented to the Commission is how to provide effective assistance of counsel, as guaranteed under the United States and the Michigan Constitutions, for accused individuals that cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Michigan is considered to be among the worst states in the Union in providing legal services for indigents.

This blog covered the problem last October when the Michigan Supreme Court reversed course in the Duncan v State of Michigan case, granting summary disposition to a constitutional challenge to our system of court appointed legal counsel. So now the executive branch will make an attempt to fix what most everyone agrees is a broken system.

Here in Waterford & Clarkston, this blogger has observed many a colleague providing quality legal service on a court-appointed [thus, low paying] basis. A court-appointed lawyer may go through 50 pleas before taking a case to trial.

Similarly, at the appellate level, roster attorneys for the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System subsist on a steady diet of guilty plea appeals which are essentially thankless fools’ errands; done dirt cheap. These MAACS attorneys, however, wait for a legitimate appellate assignment to come along, providing the opportunity to file a merits brief seeking to correct a constitutional wrong.

While professionally gratifying, the trial and/or appellate attorney can expect to be compensated at the rate of about $20 – $25 per hour.