Michigan County Sues Over New Public Defender Rules

PONTIAC, Mich. (CN) – Oakland County sued the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission over new state standards that will require counties to provide additional public defender services, arguing it will be too costly.

Keith Lerminiaux with the Oakland County Corporation Counsel filed the state court lawsuit Tuesday after the parties could not reach a compromise during mediation over the new standards set to take effect next year.

The county estimates the new requirements will force it to incur almost $3 million in added costs because it must hire more public defenders to ensure one is present at the arraignment stage, which requires an indigency pre-screening by a magistrate. A prosecutor or assistant prosecutor must also attend each arraignment.

The commission, abbreviated as MIDC, rejected the county’s proposed compliance plans and cost-analysis reports regarding the new rules, according to the 10-page complaint.

Oakland County says the standards “substantially changed the way in which arraignments are conducted in Michigan” because attorneys usually don’t have to attend arraignments, during which bond is set by a district court judge or magistrate after a defendant is pre-screened for indigency.

“Because the arraignment is now a critical stage of the criminal proceeding, it is by definition an adversarial or contested judicial proceeding,” the complaint states, adding that state-appointed counsel must represent indigent defendants at arraignments under the new standards.   

The county wants a judge to order the commission to modify the compliance plan and cost analysis to include its projected extra costs, and issue an order that the county doesn’t have to adhere to the standards until it is awarded a grant to cover those costs.

Under the new rules, counties will also have to offer continuing education for lawyers and create a private setting for lawyers to conduct client interviews.

Oakland is the second most populous Michigan county. It is located northwest of Detroit and is home to 1.2 million people as of the 2010 census.

Lerminiaux, the county attorney, said in an email that Oakland County wants indigent defendants to have “competent counsel” but that widespread changes “should be done thoughtfully and in accordance with the law.”

“It is unfortunate that we have had to initiate this litigation, but the MIDC has turned a deaf ear on us and left us no choice but to seek relief from the court,” he said. 

The commission did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email request for comment.

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