Spotlight On: Brendon Basiga

Please tell us a little about your background and how you came to work in criminal law.

I am originally from the “frozen tundra” known as Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but I came to Lansing, MI to attend the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2003.  As part of my law school career, I was recruited to do my Externship at the Washtenaw County Public Defender’s Office, by one of my closest mentors, Professor Terry Cavanaugh.  Within a week of being at that PD’s office, I knew that criminal law – specifically, criminal defense – was where I needed to dedicate my career.  I have had the privilege of representing clients at the state, federal, and international levels; and I hope to continue doing so for a long time coming.

Tell us about one of your interesting cases.

I had a lot of interesting cases, but one that comes to mind was part criminal, part custody, and part Hague Convention.  The case started as a custody case where the family originally lived in Michigan, then moved to Ontario.  The first spouse wanted to move back to Michigan, and eventually convinced the second spouse to allow the first spouse and the children to visit their friends and family back in the U.S., for a brief vacation.  While on this vacation, the first spouse decided not to return back to Canada and remained in the U.S. with the children.

The second spouse, who was still living in Canada filed suit under the Hague Convention, alleging what was essentially tantamount to Parental Kidnapping. I represented the first spouse who remained in the U.S. with the children.  Eventually, a full Hague Convention Hearing was held before a U.S. District Court Judge and the ruling was not entirely favorable.  Through a long series of events, international negotiations ensued and the case eventually settled.

The legal complexities of that case were some of the hardest I have ever had to deal with.  Even the questions of subject matter and personal jurisdiction were quite a debate.  One of the most interesting parts of the case was my opposing counsel – a true gentleman and scholar.  He was flown in from Washington D.C., to handle the Hague Convention Hearing, and it was a pleasure meeting him.  He may have been my opponent, but I was glad to be a “worth adversary” (as he put it).

You are licensed to practice in Canada. How does your practice in Canada intersect with your Michigan practice?

Every week I get questions from laypersons, lawyers, and even Judges about the immigration consequences to criminal convictions.  It has been a privilege working with lawyers and their clients from California, Arizona, Florida, South Dakota, North Virginia, and Michigan, to help them navigate border crossing issues for their clients – especially those clients who are in the international trade or transportation sectors.  For example, the week before the 2023 CDAM Spring Conference, I spent quite some time working with the management of a major trucking company and their in-house counsel, working through some border-crossing issues that could have presented a problem for their company and their employees.  However, after our discussions and planning, I have been informed that our “game plan” worked out quite well and the U.S. and Canadian Immigration Authorities were pleased with our solutions.

Additionally, on occasion, I will take a criminal case in Ontario.  I used to have a more active cross-border practice, however, for health and practical reasons, I have scaled that back and have focused the majority of my practice in Michigan.

As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, what do we need to prioritize in the criminal legal system?

Above all else, I find that client access is still an issue.  A lot of the prisons and jails are still very severely understaffed, and it takes far longer than necessary to meet with clients.  While my complaints are often met with the suggestion of using Securus, that, too, poses immense problems – especially since Securus has already admitted that it has recorded attorney-client conversations, at least at the Ingham County Jail.  While I did not trust Securus to begin with, I certainly do not trust them now.  I just assume that ALL of my online communications with my clients are being recorded.  Thus, my constant desire to meet with my client face to face.

Although I try to being understanding of the staffing issues facing the jails and the prisons, but as we come out of the pandemic lockdown, access to clients, in my opinion, needs to be at the top of the list of priorities.

Has the pandemic had any positive effects on the way we practice law? 

In some ways, the use of teleconferencing technology (i.e., Zoom) has allowed clients who would normally struggle to attend court, to do so without having to shoulder the additional burden of transportation.  Zoom has also been a convenience for some lawyers who are overbooked and need to be in multiple places at once.

While there may be other benefits that I have not thought of, I am a traditionalist at heart.  I believe that the Court is not just a place but a mindset that reminds everyone of the gravitas of the judicial system.

What significant trends – good or bad – have you noticed in Michigan criminal law, since you began practicing? 

Unfortunately, I have come across more and more Brady violations in recent years than I did when I first started practice.  Unless I specifically ask for certain items that are clearly discoverable (e.g., bodycam videos), the initial discovery that is provided to me and my client is often lacking.  I have had to file more Second Discovery Demands and more Motions to Compel and for Sanctions, recently, than I have ever had to file in the past.  I am not sure why this trend is going on, but I believe that it is up to the defense bar to be aware of these violations, and to ensure that prosecutors are not withholding critical or relevant information.

Do you have any advice for other defense attorneys, particularly are just starting out? 

I know that this is not new advice – but I strongly, strongly advise new lawyers to find a mentor.  I have had the privilege of being mentored by some of the best litigators I have ever known, and I continue to seek their counsel on a fairly regular basis.  Although I have been practicing for a number of years, I still seek the advice of wiser and learned counsel.  I’m not advocating that a junior lawyer follow the direction or advice of a senior lawyer, but at least consult with senior lawyers, talk with them, take their advice and adapt it to your own style or way of doing things.  Despite the number of cases and trials that I have, I still consider myself a student.

Kathy Swedlow
CDRC Manager and Editor