Governor Snyder orders commission to study how to improve legal representation for the poor

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

A new commission appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder will investigate ways to improve legal representation of low-income criminal defendants.

The Indigent Defense Advisory Commission will help resolve Michigan's "longstanding, chronic structural right to counsel deficiencies," said David Carroll, the research director for the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, in a news release. "This is a public safety issue.

"When an innocent person is sent to prison as a result of public defenders not having the time, tools and training to effectively advocate for their clients, the true perpetrator of the crime remains free to victimize others and put public safety in jeopardy."

The commission will also recommend ways to ensure such legal representation is consistent across the state.

"A core principle of our criminal justice system is to guarantee that an individual charged with a crime be entitled to legal representation, even if they are unable to hire private counsel," Snyder said in a statement. "The Commission will work to ensure that all criminal defendants receive effective assistance of counsel."

Julie Fershtman, president of the State Bar of Michigan, said the commission is a significant step forward in guaranteeing that Michigan has a criminal justice system that works for all and upholds core Constitutional rights for Michigan's citizens.

Michigan currently delegates its trial-level duties to its counties. But Carroll said the state now neglects to provide any type of meaningful supervision or accountability for the work of public defense lawyers, and it refuses to make available on-going training to keep attorneys abreast of ever-evolving criminal justice sciences.

"And public attorneys are often beholden to the trial judge for their paycheck, creating a direct conflict between the lawyer's own personal financial well-being and his ethical duty to advocate solely on behalf of his client," he said.

The commission includes four lawmakers and 10 members representing the judiciary, prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, the State Bar of Michigan, local governments, and the general public.

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The 14 Indigent Defense Advisory Commission members are:

Chair:

James Fisher of Hastings, former chief judge of Barry County Trial Court. He previously served as prosecuting attorney for the Barry County Prosecutors Office. Fisher earned a degree in engineering from the General Motors Institute and a law degree from Wayne State University. He will serve as chair of the commission and represents the general public.

Members:

* Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Colleen O'Brien of Rochester Hills. She previously worked for 17 years as a private practice attorney specializing in civil litigation. O'Brien earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a law degree from the Detroit College of Law. She will represent the interests of the judiciary.

* Ingham County 55th District Court Judge Thomas Boyd of Okemos. He previously served as assistant attorney general for the Michigan Department of Attorney General. Boyd earned a bachelor's degree in social science from the James Madison College at Michigan State University and a law degree from Wayne State University. He will represent the interests of the judiciary.

* Michael Brown of Kalamazoo, president of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions for the Midwest District. He previously served in multiple roles with the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission and served 22 years in the U.S. Navy. He will represent the general public.

* Judith Gracey of Sylvan Lake, sole practitioner of law in the areas of criminal, family, probate and estates, personal injury and contact law. She is also a commissioner on the Michigan Appellate Defender Commission. Gracey earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and a law degree from the University of Cincinnati Law School. She will represent the interests of the State Bar of Michigan.

* Maggie Jones of Brighton, Livingston County commissioner. She also serves as chair of the Livingston County United Way Day of Caring and is a member of the Livingston County Economic Development Council. Jones earned a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in education from the University of Michigan. She will represent local government.

* Andrew Richner of Grosse Pointe Park, partner in the law firm Clark Hill PLC. He is a member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents. Richner previously served three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives, two terms as a Wayne County Commissioner, and one term on the Grosse Pointe Park City Council. He earned both a bachelor's degree in business administration and a law degree from the University of Michigan. Richner will represent the general public.

* Suzanne Sareini of Dearborn has served as councilwoman for the city of Dearborn for more than 20 years. She also serves as a trustee of the Board of Directors for the Advanced Technology Academy Charter Public School in Dearborn. Sareini is a member of the Dearborn Optimist Club, Michigan Military Moms and the Women's Association for the Dearborn Orchestral Society. She will represent the general public.

* Ronald Schafer of Portland, prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. He previously served as chief assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia and Washtenaw counties. Schafer earned a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and a law degree from the Detroit College of Law. He will represent the interests of prosecuting attorneys.

* John Shea of Chelsea, private practice attorney specializing in criminal defense. He previously worked for the Bodman, Longley and Dahling and Aaron, Schimberg and Hess law firms. Shea serves as chair and member of the Dexter Township Planning Commission. He earned both a bachelor's degree in economics and a law degree from the University of Michigan. Shea will represent interests of criminal defense attorneys.

The four appointed legislators are:

* Sen. Bruce Caswell is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he chairs the Department of Human Services subcommittee and serves as vice chair of the subcommittees for the Department of Community Health, K-12, School Aid and Education, and Retirement. He will represent the Senate majority caucus and is appointed by Senate Majority Leader Richardville.

* Sen. Bert Johnson serves on the Appropriations Committee and as minority vice-chair of the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, General Government and Judiciary subcommittees. He also sits on the Redistricting Committee and serves as minority vice-chair of the Regulatory Reform Committee. Johnson will represent the Senate minority caucus and is appointed by Senate Majority Leader Richardville.

* Rep. Tom McMillin serves as chair of the Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee and as a member of the Education, Government Operations and Regulatory Reform committees. He is a certified public accountant, business owner, and is a former Oakland County commissioner and former mayor and member of the Auburn Hills City Council. McMillin will represent the House majority caucus and is appointed by Speaker of the House Bolger.

* Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton serves on the Appropriations Committee and the Community Colleges, General Government and School Air subcommittees. She is a patent attorney and has been named Legislator of the Year by the Michigan Probate Judges Association. She will represent the House minority caucus and is appointed by Speaker of the House Bolger.

All appointees will serve until December 2012 at the pleasure of the governor.

The full text of E.O. 2011-12 is available online at www.michigan.gov/snyder.

Published: Mon, Oct 17, 2011

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