Summer 2016 Update
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The Michigan Supreme Court conditionally approved the first set of standards for indigent defense delivery systems in Michigan on June 1, 2016. The Court conditioned this approval on legislative revision of the MIDC Act to address certain constitutional questions implicated by the statute. These questions involve the placement of the MIDC within the judicial branch, separation of powers concerns, and the authority to regulate the legal profession. The MIDC has been working with the Governor and Supreme Court to develop a solution.
Staff and Regional Consultants continue to collaborate with State Court Administrative Office Regional Administrators and county governments as stakeholders evaluate the conditionally approved standards, addressing: training and education of counsel, the initial client interview, use of investigation and experts, and counsel at first appearance and other critical stages. The full text of the standards conditionally approved by the Supreme Court can be found on the MIDC’s website.
Over the past year, the criminal defense community has reached out to the MIDC for resources and support that can be provided to appointed counsel. Other stakeholders have also made specific complaints about indigent defense practice and process. The most common question that the MIDC receives is about increasing fees to attorneys for their work on assigned cases. In April 2016, the MIDC began drafting the next set of standards for indigent defense delivery systems in Michigan, and the MIDC will be addressing financial incentives and disincentives in compensating assigned counsel in future standards and pursuant to the MIDC Act. However, the MIDC continues to receive complaints about attorney fees. The Commission has recently published a position paper on fees aimed at all stakeholders in the criminal justice system. Attorneys are encouraged to read the position paper when requesting reasonable fees in assigned cases, while trial court administrators and judges may use the document as a resource for evaluating these requests. The position paper is on the MIDC’s website.
Attorneys and other stakeholders also inquire about the process for formally submitting complaints about fee issues and other areas involving indigent defense. The MIDC has a “Recommendations & Complaints” committee, which approved a form for submitting complaints to the Commission pursuant to MCL 780.989(1)(e). All criminal justice stakeholders including indigent clients and members of the public may submit a complaint or recommendation. You can find the form on the contact page of the MIDC website. The form itself is simple but helps identify specific problems for the committee, and it is a process-based approach to problem solving whenever possible. The MIDC Staff is not in a position to accept complaints through community based networks or other informal means, and is not authorized to respond on behalf of the Commission to individual complaints made in public or private forums. Complaints received through the form based-process will be forwarded to the MIDC complaints and recommendations committee and will be formally responded to with steps outlined for further action by the Commission as needed.
The MIDC will meet on August 9, 2016 for a regularly scheduled meeting. The Commission meets at 1:00 p.m. in Lansing and all meetings are open to the public. Information about upcoming meetings, or agendas and minutes from prior meetings can be found on our website. We will continue to post progress about our work and any other developments about indigent defense in Michigan on our website as well.
The initial standards address some of the major problems Michigan faces in the delivery of adequate indigent defense systems: training and education of counsel, the initial client interview, use of investigation and experts, and counsel at first appearance and other critical stages.
Each local indigent criminal defense delivery system working with the State Court Administrative Office will now submit its compliance plan to the MIDC and the agency will work with the legislature to secure funding for those plans.
In April, the MIDC approved the subjects of the next set of standards: independence from the judiciary, caseloads, attorney qualifications and review, and reasonable fees.
Read the Michigan Supreme Court’s press release here.
On May 18, 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court held a public hearing on whether to incorporate the first set of minimum standards for indigent defense delivery systems submitted by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission on January 4, 2016. The video recording from that public hearing is now available online.
Comments on the MIDC Standards begin at approximately the 26:30 mark.
Pursuant to MCL 780.985(3), the Michigan Supreme Court has until July 2, 2016 to adopt the standards submitted by the Commission.
The Michigan Supreme Court has announced information about the public hearing to be held on administrative matters before the Court. The public hearing will be held on Wednesday May 18, 2016 beginning promptly at 12:30 p.m. and will end no later than 2:30 p.m. The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission’s first standards for indigent defense delivery systems will be part of the Court’s agenda. The Court will broadcast the hearing through a live streaming video service.
Read the media release about the public hearing here.
View the live streaming hearing here beginning at 12:20 p.m. on May 18, 2016.
Read the first proposed standards for indigent defense delivery systems here.
April 2016 Update
The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission met on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 in the MIDC Office in Lansing, Michigan. The first proposed standards for indigent defense delivery systems remain pending in the Michigan Supreme Court, with the comment period continuing until May 1, 2016 and the public hearing on the first standards set for May 18, 2016. In the meantime, the Commission is moving forward by connecting our Regional Consultants with stakeholders in the criminal justice system, creating a process in anticipation of implementing the first proposed standards statewide, and developing the next standards in our efforts to drastically improve the representation for poor people charged with crimes in Michigan.
The MIDC is pleased to report that the Regional Consultants have met with practitioners, court administrators and judges in nearly every county. The initial meetings have been critical to talk through the first standards and acquire information about spending on indigent defense. In many meetings the local systems have shared information about ideas for compliance. Court administrators and attorneys have also identified where standards are already being met, and in some cases have organized meetings to create preliminary outlines for compliance plans where significant change needs to occur. Once the standards are adopted by the Michigan Supreme Court, the statute provides only 180 days for systems to submit compliance plans to the MIDC, and 60 days for the Commission to approve those plans thereafter. All of these early discussions have provided valuable information to shape the process for compliance, and should make the workload easier when the first standards are approved.
The Commission’s work is informed through these meetings with courts and practitioners, as well as through the data collection mandated by the MIDC Act. In February, the Commission released a report of its first survey to measure the delivery of criminal justice for indigent defense reform in Michigan entitled Snapshot of Indigent Defense Representation in Michigan’s Adult Criminal Courts: The MIDC’S First Survey of Local Court Systems. The report has been discussed in national conversations about indigent defense reform and can be downloaded for review on the MIDC website. The MIDC also recently completed its first survey of criminal defense attorneys in Michigan, designed to gather data about their assigned cases and learn how we can work together to improve indigent defense statewide. Much like the court system survey, the attorney survey sought information about continuing legal education requirements, confidentiality of space for attorney client meetings in courts and jails, using experts and investigators in practice, and recommendations for prioritizing the next standards to be proposed by the MIDC. The MIDC is producing a report summarizing those survey findings, which will be prepared and posted on the MIDC’s website by this summer.
Data collection and meetings have fortified the Commission’s priorities for the next standards to be proposed this year. The next standards will address financial incentives and disincentives in compensating assigned counsel, caseload capacities, qualification and review of attorneys eligible for assignments, and independence from the judiciary. Like the first standards, these requirements are derived from the MIDC Act, constitutional principles, or nationally accepted models for delivering public defense services. The process for proposing the standards will begin through drafts created by MIDC Committees and will be circulated among the Commission as a whole later this spring. The MIDC Act requires a public hearing prior to submitting the standards to the Michigan Supreme Court, which will be planned for later this year. The MIDC is committed to being as transparent as possible in this process and encourages feedback from all members of the criminal justice community.
The MIDC continues to move forward with plans for system-wide reform, and in 2016 will add to the foundation necessary to implement improvement to indigent defense in Michigan. This will be accomplished by collaborating with courts and practitioners and seeking appropriations to provide systems with the necessary resources to adequately fund public defense. Governor Snyder recently reappointed John Shea, Brandy Robinson, Frank Eaman and William Swor to the Commission; all four will serve terms that expire April 1, 2020. Information about Commissioners is available on the MIDC’s website.
The Commission will next meet on June 21, 2016. Information about all upcoming meetings and minutes from prior meetings can be found on our website. We will continue to post progress about our work and any other developments about indigent defense in Michigan on our website as well. To schedule a meeting with your Regional Consultant, please see the contact information on the MIDC’s website or contact us directly.
On April 13, 2016, Governor Snyder announced in a press release that Frank Eaman, Brandy Robinson, William Swor and John Shea have been re-appointed to serve on the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission:
“A key principle of the judicial system is that every citizen has a right to competent legal counsel,” Snyder said. “I am confident these members will continue to serve our state well on this commission.”
On order of the Court, this is to advise that the Court is considering adoption of an administrative order that would establish minimum standards for appointed counsel as proposed by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. Before determining whether the proposal should be adopted, changed before adoption, or rejected, this notice is given to afford interested persons the opportunity to comment on the form or the merits of the proposal or to suggest alternatives. The Court welcomes the views of all. This matter also will be considered at a public hearing.
The comment period expires on May 1, 2016. Comments will be posted on the Michigan Supreme Court’s website.
In an interview with Michigan Radio, 55th District Court Judge Tomas Boyd of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission discussed the first set of proposed minimum standards for indigent defense delivery systems that are currently pending in the Michigan Supreme Court as well as findings from a court system survey conducted by the Commission that was released in February:
“There are 111 district courts within those 83 counties, 58 circuit courts, each of them has a different way to do this,” said Boyd. “There is no consistency across the system. So what the legislature intends to do, and what Gov. Rick Snyder intends to do, is to establish a layer of minimum standards that every system needs to rise up to.”
The entire interview is online and available for listening on Michigan Radio’s website.
The report by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission is the first comprehensive statewide survey on the defense of poor people, said the commission. It found wide variations in how indigent people are represented across the state, with only 6% of district courts requiring an attorney at both the bail hearing and at arraignment. And only 15% have guidelines for continuing legal education standards for attorneys appointed to represent the needy.
The Detroit Free Press article quotes from Commissioners Frank Eaman, Brandy Robinson and William Swor about the work of the MIDC.
Read the entire article on the Detroit Free Press website.
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