The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission met on July 31st and again in August 15th in an effort to provide resources and information for funding units planning for compliance with the first standards for indigent criminal defense systems. Every trial court funding unit in Michigan is required to submit a plan for compliance with the first four standards, along with a cost analysis, to the MIDC no later than November 20, 2017. Those first four standards cover 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 approved by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs can be found on the MIDC’s website.
The MIDC has published several documents to assist funding units with compliance planning: a detailed application with instructions for completing the form, a guide for submission of compliance plans, cost analyses, and local share calculations, as well as sample plans for a variety of systems to consider. The MIDC’s website has a grants page containing a complete collection of information.
The MIDC’s Regional Managers continue to work statewide to assist with compliance planning. Rebecca Mack, the MIDC’s Grant Manager, will conduct webinar-based application workshops coordinated with each Regional Manager throughout the month of September. All work group members are welcome and invited to attend these sessions. The MIDC’s calendar has information to register for each workshop.
Earlier this summer, the MIDC published three new standards for feedback and comment by stakeholders in the criminal justice system. The next standards address the need for independence from the judiciary, defender workload limitations, and qualification and review of attorneys accepting assignments in adult criminal cases. The comment period remains open until October 6, 2017. The full text of those standards and a link to instructions for submitting comments is available online.
At the August 15, 2017 meeting, the Commission discussed a proposed standard on economic disincentives and incentives. Dr. Jonah Siegel, the MIDC’s Research Director, explained the challenges in establishing reasonable fees due to a lack of calculation information nationwide and discussed combinations of rates and overhead expenses for potential MIDC required hourly attorney fees. The standard will be developed further by the Commission this fall and discussed at the October 2017 meeting. The Commission will invite public comments prior to finalizing the standard.
As part of the MIDC’s mandate to establish best practices for delivering the effective assistance of counsel to indigent defendants charged with crimes, the Commission offered a competitive grant opportunity to fund programs dedicated to improving indigent defense locally and statewide. Separate from permanent compliance planning, these grants will allow local systems to pursue innovative projects to immediately improve indigent defense. Sixteen applications were received in July for projects that will begin this fall. At the August 15th meeting, the Commission voted to fund the following projects:
- Allegan/Van Buren Regional Indigent Defense Program (RIDP): To explore an innovative regional model regarding the implementation of a joined/hybrid Public Defender Office to provide Indigent Defense Services;
- Calhoun County Indigent Defense Intake Study: To identify and develop best practices for the indigent defense intake and reimbursement process to identify the truly indigent, assure integrity of the system and increase compliance with reimbursement orders;
- Feasibility Study of Multi-County Administration of a Managed Appointment Model for Indigent Defense Services: Study the feasibility of joining Mecosta County with 5 other counties to provide a single administrator to manage each county’s indigent service plan;
- Feasibility Study for the creation of a Managed Assigned Counsel Model for the 3rd Class District Courts of Macomb County: Study the feasibility of joining with the other 3rd Class District Courts in Macomb County to provide a single administrator to manage each of the district court’s indigent service plan;
- Assessment of Metropolitan Justice Center State Defender Office (Wayne County) Felony Practice: Obtain the consulting services of The Defender Initiative at Seattle University and its partner The Sixth Amendment Center with the assistance of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association to study SDO’s felony representation.
The grants will be awarded on a one-time basis for projects that will conclude no later than September 2018. Systems will be required to report on progress regularly.
The MIDC will meet next on October 17, 2017 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.