State House to pick up the pace on indigent defense issues

In light of last week’s Michigan Supreme Court’s stunning decision to vacate an April 30 order that allowed a class action challenge to the state’s indigent defense system to proceed, the chairman of the State House Judiciary Committee said his committee will “pick up the pace” to address what some say is a broken defense system.

“This committee is working very hard on an approach that would meet constitutional muster for Michigan,” said Chairman Mark Meadows, D-Lansing.

The committee’s new-found focus comes after a divided Michigan Supreme Court in an order last week said that Duncan et al v. State of Michigan et al, the state is entitled to summary disposition because the case is not justiciable. The order contrasts with its original April 30 order, which held that the state’s motion for summary disposition was premature, and found in favor of the plaintiffs, who claimed that they received such poor representation in three Michigan counties, that the state had fallen short of its constitutional obligations.

The most recent order, Meadows said, “The court very clearly stated that the ball is in the legislature’s court at this time.”

He said that Michigan’s indigent defense system is recognized, even on a national level as “deficient.” In December, the committee took up House Bill 5676, which would create a statewide system to provide indigent defense, rather than leaving the state’s obligation to Michigan’s counties, which currently provide those legal services. The bill remains in committee.

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