Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Michigan Supreme Court Reverses Its Own Decision Allocating Greater Funding for State’s Public Defender Offices

By Derek Gilna

In an unusual decision, criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Michigan Supreme Court on July 17 reversed itself and threw out a lawsuit that would have required the State of Michigan to provide more funds for poor people accused of crimes to hire attorneys. "We are shocked and disturbed by the Supreme Court's about-face, said Michael J. Steinberg of the Michigan chapter of the ACLU." Today's order prevents us from proving what most observers already know-Michigan's justice system is broken for poor people accused of crimes."

The court had already upheld court decisions favoring the lawsuit of eight men and women convicted of crimes in Berrien, Genesee, and Muskegon counties against the state of Michigan, and Governor Jennifer Granhol, which sought consistent state funding for the criminal justice defense system operated and funded by the state's 83 counties.

The reversal of the court's previous decision came about as a result of motion for reconsideration of this Court's April 30, 2010 order, and reversed that June 11, 2009 judgment of the Court of Appeals, and granted the defendants motion for summary disposition, adopting the dissenting opinion of the Court of Appeals, and stating that the plaintiffs' claims are not "justiciable."

The abrupt about-face by the court ended the attempt of plaintiffs to become a class-action lawsuit that would have included all persons convicted of crimes in Michigan while represented by court-appointed counsel. In supporting its new decision, the court asserted that "Plaintiffs' claims would have 'the judiciary override the Michigan system of local control and funding of legal services for indigent criminal defendants,' despite the absence of any constitutional violation...Plaintiffs' claims are not sufficient to create a presumption of either prejudice... that warrant either declaratory or injunctive relief... and Plaintiffs lack standing, and, therefore, their claims are not justiciable...There is no constitutional precedent that 'guarantees an indigent defendant a particular attorney' or an 'attorney of a particular level of skill' that requires a 'predetermined amount of outside resources be available to an attorney..."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge C.J. Kelly asked what had changed to motivate the court to change its previous opinion..."there is nothing in defendants' motion for reconsideration of which we were not fully aware when we issued our previous order...the only arguments proffered in favor of granting reconsideration are a revival of arguments that our previous order rejected..."

According to Mary Mullins, a Detroit attorney who filed a brief in the case supporting the plaintiffs, on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said: "To grant a motion for reconsideration is rare in the first place, and it [the decision] was not for the customary narrow purpose."

According to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, Michigan currently ranks 44th in the nation for the amount it spends to provide legal representation to the poor.

The underlying lawsuit was brought as a result of the eight plaintiffs from the counties of Berrien, Genesee, and Kent counties, alleging that court-appointed attorneys failed to provide adequate defense, resulting in prejudice to the defendants. See: Duncan v. State, 784 NW 2d 51 (2010).

Source: Detroit News

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Duncan v. State