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State rule would guarantee public defenders at least $100 an hour

A courtroom
Bill Ledbetter
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Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
A new Michigan rule will set minimum rates for attorneys who represent indigent defendants.

A new state rule will set minimum rates for attorneys who represent indigent defendants. It complies with recommendations made by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission.

Public defenders would make a minimum of $100 an hour under the rules approved by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The rate will go as high as $120 an hour depending on the seriousness of the charges. Also, costs for experts and investigators will be reimbursed under the rules.

“What’s at stake is the constitutional guarantee of the right to the effective assistance of counsel, which is fundamental to our legal system — still the best system in the world even though we’re always working to make it better,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack in an interview with the Michigan Public Radio Network.

The standards approved Friday by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, would also:

  • require legal counsel for defendants to be present at all critical court appearances;
  • require indigent defense attorneys to have at least 12 hours of training every year relevant to representing clients who can’t afford to pay for legal counsel; and
  • require legal counsel for indigent clients to meet with them in a timely manner in a place that ensures confidentiality.

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission found the rates paid to court-appointed public defenders are often too low to cover attorneys’ costs.
“By adopting this standard, we remove the financial deterrent for public defense and replace it with a model that invests in our most vulnerable citizens providing quality services and breaking down long-standing barriers that have prevented those whose liberty is at stake from getting the help they deserve,” said Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Orlene Hawks.

There is still plenty of work to be done. Local indigent defense offices have 180 days to submit preliminary plans to comply with the rule. The plans must be approved by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, which is made up of 18 members appointed by the governor.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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