Indigent defense rules costly for some Michigan officials

DETROIT (AP) — Some county officials in Michigan say new state rules designed to give financially limited defendants effective legal representation in court cases are costing too much money to implement.

The Detroit News reported that Oakland County officials have taken the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission to court, arguing that the county needs more money to hire additional staff. The county officials are seeking a court order that says they don’t have to comply with the state regulations until the county receives a grant to cover the cost.

“Our county is not opposed to supporting indigent offenders with competent counsel,” said Keith Lerminiaux, Oakland County’s chief corporation counsel. “We thought we had a pretty good practice in force, but the state had decided it needs changes. That is fine, providing it helps fund it.”

The new rules, which have been in development since April 2017, require counties to provide court-appointed attorneys with continuing education, private spaces for discussions with their clients, limits on attorney workloads, and selection procedures that ensure attorneys have “independence from the judiciary.” The rules also require that attorneys be present with defendants every step of the way starting with the arraignment.

Macomb County has implemented some of the state-mandated changes using an Indigent Defense Commission grant covering the $4.5 million cost, said Al Lorenzo, deputy Macomb County executive.

The commission says Wayne County could get up to $17 million in state aid to implement the changes.

In Oakland County, officials have made several requests for about $3 million a year to hire additional assistant prosecutors and magistrates. The state has rejected those requests, saying Oakland County officials are asking for money that no other county is receiving.

Macomb and Wayne county officials said they plan to complete their changes by mid-2019.