Michigan Indigent Defense Commission May 2015

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) has been busy this spring, drafting proposed minimum standards, creating a survey for counties, and continuing to connect with indigent defense providers around the state. While there is much work to be done, progress has been made in terms of information gathering and laying the groundwork for improvements to indigent defense in Michigan.

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission meeting in April.

The Commission met most recently on April 14, 2015 at the State Bar of Michigan board room in Lansing. David Carroll from the 6th Amendment Center was a special guest at the meeting. Mr. Carroll is a nationally recognized expert on indigent defense standards and structures. Mr. Carroll founded the 6th Amendment Center in 2012, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization to assist state and local governments meet the constitutional imperative to provide competent lawyers to the indigent accused. Mr. Carroll was the primary author of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association’s report on Michigan’s indigent defense services, “A Race to the Bottom – Speed & Savings over Due Process: A Constitutional Crisis,” and provided assistance to Governor Snyder’s Indigent Defense Advisory Committee. Mr. Carroll continues to work in an advisory capacity with the MIDC pursuant to a grant from the Department of Justice. He gave a presentation to the Commission about the history of the right to counsel and insights for moving forward in Michigan.

David Carroll and Jonathan Sacks at the MIDC meeting

Executive Director Jonathan Sacks provided a report to the Commission about the work being done by staff. As part of his report, Mr. Sacks described the initial minimum standards that have been drafted for the Commission’s consideration. The MIDC Act sets forth the process for proposing minimum standards, which will involve a series of proposals over time. The first set of proposals cover the following areas: Education and Training of Defense Counsel; the Initial Client Interview; Investigation and Expert Witnesses; and Timing for Appointment of Counsel. The MIDC has Committees that are currently drafting and reviewing these four proposed standards. The Committees meet regularly and have MIDC staff liaisons assigned to each group for administrative and technical assistance.

It is estimated that the full Commission will review the work done by the Committees and discuss the proposed standards at the June 9, 2015 MIDC meeting in Lansing. Thereafter, the proposals will be distributed for comments by the criminal justice community before the public hearing, which is estimated to occur at the time of the August 18, 2015 MIDC meeting. The timeline is ambitious, but all of the Committees are working diligently. Information about attending the public hearing, which is open to the public, will be on the MIDC website, www.michiganidc.gov, which is set to launch later this spring.

The MIDC is also in the process of finalizing a survey to be distributed to all Circuit and District Courts in Michigan. The MIDC Act requires data collection from indigent defense providers. This first survey will help identify the types of delivery systems used in each county, factors used to determine eligibility for assigned counsel services, the timeframe for appointments of counsel and information about meetings with clients, training for assigned counsel, expenditures on indigent defense, and case tracking methodology. The survey will be distributed through the State Court Administrator’s Office and the responses will be analyzed this summer. A summary of the survey results will be made available to the public after it has been completed. The primary author of the survey is incoming MIDC Research Director Dr. Jonah Siegel, a sociologist with a specialty in criminal justice issues.

MIDC staff continues to connect with practitioners regularly. Jonathan Sacks spends time every week meeting with criminal defense attorneys, court administrators, and judges, widely seeking input for improving indigent defense services. Mr. Sacks also attended a train-the-trainer event for CDAM’s trial college at the end of April. As a career-public defender and former supervisor of public defenders, Mr. Sacks hopes to engage the newest group of indigent criminal defense attorneys in Michigan. Mr. Sacks was also recently appointed to the State Bar of Michigan’s “Modernizing the Regulatory Machinery” Committee of the 21st Century Task Force, dedicated to building economic resilience and capacity in the delivery of legal services.

Marla McCowan, left, and attorney Christine Grand. The picture above shows Jonathan at the Train-the-Trainer event offered by CDAM.

Marla McCowan, the Director of Training, Outreach and Support, maintains her position on the Wayne County Criminal Advocacy Program Board of Directors, a program delivering mandatory training to one of the largest assigned-counsel rosters in Michigan. Ms. McCowan also continues in her position on the Education Committee for the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, and was elected to the CDAM Board of Directors this spring. Ms. McCowan was also recently appointed to the State Bar of Michigan’s “Building a 21st Century Practice” Committee of the 21st Century Task Force, working toward developing and maintaining professional excellence in a dynamic marketplace.

State Office Administrator and Legislative Director Marcela Westrate was appointed to the State Bar of Michigan “Affordability of Legal Services” Committee of the 21st Century Task Force, working on new tools for breaking through the access barrier. She will participate in training later this spring to ensure MIDC is in full compliance with the document retention policy and the Freedom of Information Act. Transparency and accountability remain at the core of facilitating the MIDC mission.

Contact: Marla McCowan

Director of Training, Outreach and Support


(517) 388-6702

Sign up to be notified of the MIDC website launch at


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Marla McCowan
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