Lloyd Powell updates 'Public Defender Organizational and Functional Charts'

By Lloyd E. Powell

Chief Public Defender

Historical Background:

The overwhelming majority of defendants in criminal cases nationwide and locally are assessed by courts to be indigent or partially indigent resulting in a legally mandated requirement that public defenders be appointed to provide them with effective assistance of counsel.

Thus, locally, our 40-year-old Washtenaw County Office of Public Defender (http://publicdefender.ewashtenaw.org) is appointed as first choice to handle the overwhelming majority of such cases for both adults and juveniles, with either our County Prosecutor, State Attorney General, city, village or township attorneys always being metaphorically "on the other side of the table" as all of the major components of our local criminal justice system (i.e. the police, prosecution, defense, courts and corrections) seek, both collaboratively and adversatively, to competently and cost effectively achieve justice.

The advent of electronic computerized technology and the availability of many highly qualified volunteers, has enabled public defense trial attorneys to become progressively more self reliant and self sufficient in handling increasing workloads with quality and cost effectiveness.

Thus, it is in the context of cost effectiveness and enhancement of quality of service, with acceptance by our Public Defenders Association (Union), and unrelated to AFSCME, that two-thirds of our staff is comprised of select volunteers who serve us as student lawyers, investigators, skilled researchers and invaluable teachers and trainers.

Our volunteers expand the workload capacity of our streamlined core of devoted FTE public defenders who, for all adult clients, have not grown in size during the past 31 years - notwithstanding an eight-fold increase in workload.

Approximately 10 percent of them who are in greatest need and/or who are specially qualified in education and experience to aid in teaching and training each new group of student interns arriving every semester are rewarded with some greatly leveraged compensation as part time employees.

This is a teaching and learning experience that many students take for course credit through their law school or other institution of higher learning.

Under the supervision of an attorney member of a Public Defender operational team, a student lawyer/investigator serves as an extension of the attorney by providing whatever assistance that is needed commensurate with their overall educational and experience qualifications.

Current Composition of Integrated Staff of Volunteers and fulltim employees (FTE)

Our department is comprised of dedicated career attorneys who operate as well trained, experienced and coordinated teams with full parity in salaries with prosecutors and, most importantly, one that meets all of the principles of a public defense delivery system established or adopted by the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan, the Michigan Campaign for Justice and the Michigan Public Defense Task Force.

At any given time, the Office is further augmented with many select volunteer attorneys plus an average of 80-90 volunteer select student lawyers and investigators from law schools, colleges and universities throughout the country.

Student lawyer/investigators typically spend a semester with us, although some may stay up to a year or more.

A small percentage of investigators work year round and are compensated somewhat for their services.

These investigators take a lead role in training new student lawyer/investigators and in coordinating operational team responsibilities for the four Circuit Court teams, three district court teams, three juvenile court teams, the preliminary exam team, and the additional teams as referred to on the attached chart.

Specific role of volunteers as student lawyer/investigators

Student Lawyers/Investigators are volunteers who are licensed attorneys or college students attending higher institutions of learning in pursuit of undergraduate, graduate and/or law degree.

They are all assigned to one or more of 14 Operational Teams that are always headed by a veteran FTE public defense attorney as depicted on the attached "Organization Chart."

As members of these Operational Teams, they all serve as extensions of our FTE attorneys in assisting them when and wherever possible to achieve, refine and maintain complete self-sufficiency and self-reliance in performing all tasks that relate to a discharge of their duties to provide top quality public defense in the most cost effective way feasible, to the maximum capacity and qualification of each particular volunteer intern.

These multi tasks that our self-sufficient and self-reliant FTE Attorneys, as Assistant Public Defenders, must perform include, but are not limited to, handling all criminal, juvenile and special civil law appointments that provide a wide array of services related to probation violations, line-ups, personal protection orders, extraditions, Friend of the Court matters, bond reduction hearings, diversions, response to legal questions from the public, plus a wide array of investigative research.

Our attorneys must make use of Information Technology to enhance quality and cost effectiveness as to the recordation of computer data entry and coding necessary to open and close legal case files, track the ongoing legal court process, utilize the specialized public defender system and Court data entry system, Enact, document preparations, filings, conflict of interest checks for witnesses, interviews of clients and witnesses, examination of police reports, visits to crime scenes to gather available facts, provide counseling to clients in terms of a realistic evaluation of their cases, arrangement for alternative case dispositions, alcohol and drug abuse therapy, educational opportunities, resolution of family problems, in court and out of court support services, effective guardian-at- litem representations for neglected and abused juveniles and the effective conduct of bench and jury trials with follow-up sentencing representations as needed.

Thank you for reading our latest "Update of Public Defender Organizational/Functional Charts" and please feel free to contact me at anytime to provide any additional information or clarifications needed.

Published: Mon, Jul 18, 2011

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