Public Defense Reform This Month

As activity continues to mount on reform of Michigan's public defense system, we will continue to provide updates to our readers.  These updates will include those addressing attorney fees.

There Is Quite A Lot To Report From
The Public Defense Reform Effort This Month!

 On October 13, Governor Rick Snyder issued Executive Order 2011-12, establishing a state commission to examine Michigan’s failing public defense system and recommending needed legislative reforms to ensure every citizen’s constitutional right to effective legal representation, regardless of their ability to afford it.

 The Indigent Defense Advisory Commission is charged with the responsibility of analyzing “existing data that is needed to assist policymakers in making decisions on the appropriate funding and staffing levels to ensure effective public criminal defense services,” and making “recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature for improvements to the system of providing legal representation for indigent criminal defendants.”  The commission must issue a report and recommendations by July 15, 2012.

 The Campaign for Justice applauds Governor Snyder for taking this important step and recognizing the crucial need for public defense reform in Michigan.  It is widely recognized in Michigan and across the United States that our public defense system needs to improve, and for years, the Campaign has been advo-cating for legislation to reform our system in order to meet the basic constitutional standards Michigan residents deserve and taxpayers expect.  This com-mission presents a true opportunity for needed reform.

Commission Members

 The commission was named by the governor as follows:
 Hon. James Fisher, former chief judge of Barry County Trial Court, chairs the commission. The commission members are: Hon. Thomas Boyd, 55th District Court judge (representing District Judges); Hon. Colleen O’Brien, Sixth Circuit judge (representing Circuit Judges); Michael Brown, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions for the Midwest District (representing the general public); Judith Gracey, solo practitioner (representing the State Bar of Michigan); Maggie Jones, Livingston County Commissioner (representing local government); Andrew Richner, partner at Clark Hill PLC (representing the general public); Suzanne Sareini of Dearborn (representing the general public); Ronald Schafer, prosecuting attorney for Ionia County (representing prosecuting attorneys); and John Shea, private practice defense attorney (representing criminal defense attorneys). Also serving on the commission are legislators from each of the four legislative caucuses: Sen. Bruce Caswell, Sen. Bert Johnson, Rep. Tom McMillin, and Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton.

Commission Meeting Schedule

 The next scheduled meetings for the commission are December 2 (2011), December 16 (2011), January 20, February 17, and March 16, 2012.  All meetings take place from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  The two December meetings will be held at the State Bar of Michigan. Locations for the other meetings have not yet been de-termined.  Sign up on our website ( for email alerts if you would like up-to-date informa-tion about these efforts.  The Campaign will be actively monitoring and working with the commission in support of our reform goals and we may ask sup-porters to join us at commission meetings in the future.

Michigan Papers Support the Commission:

 In the weeks following the executive order, Michigan newspapers have editorialized in support of the commission efforts.
 From the Battle Creek Enquirer:

Michigan's public defender system has been a source of controversy for years.  The inconsistencies throughout the state make it virtually impossible to guarantee that an individual charged with a crime gets adequate legal representation.

Snyder wants the 14-member Indigent Defense Advisory Commission to come up with recommendations for improvement by next July 15.  We hope those recommendations lead to a better system that upholds the standards of justice throughout the state.

 From the Detroit Free Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder took a welcome first step to improve Michigan's abysmal track record of providing decent legal representation to low-income criminal defendants. …

If a struggling state like Louisiana can fix its indigent defense system -- quadrupling the funding -- Michigan can, too. Snyder deserves credit for finally moving Michigan in the right direction on providing adequate, constitutional and, in the long run, cost-effective public defense for the poor.

We Need Your Stories

 Defense attorneys:  we need your voices.  NLADA’s Race to the Bottom report was released three years ago and focused on ten Michigan counties.  The Campaign is compiling recent anecdotes and other current information about what’s happening in public defense around the state.  Is the payment scheme in your local public defense representation system improving?  Worsening?  Is your court or county commission considering changes?  What kind of changes?
 How much access do you have to experts and investigators?  Have motions for extraordinary fees or funding for expert witness fees been repeatedly denied?  Are you noticing any changes with your court appointed caseload this year?

 If you have information to share with us, please email Stephanie at and include your name and contact information.  Please indicate whether you are anonymously sharing the information or if you would like your name to be listed.

by Peter Cunningham, Executive Director
Campaign for Justice

 Peter Cunningham serves as the executive director of the Campaign for Justice. Prior to joining the Campaign, Peter worked for the Michigan House of Representatives for seven years. He began working for the House as a Research Analyst and was promoted to Policy Director by former Democratic Leader Dianne Byrum. He went on to work for four years in the office of former House Speaker Andy Dillon, first serving as the Legislative Director and then as the Chief of Staff.

 Prior to his work in the Legislature, Peter managed a successful campaign to pass a $77 million bond proposal for Lansing Public schools, which resulted in the construction of a new middle school and improvements at several existing schools. Peter has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Penn., and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.