The Michigan Campaign for Justice today applauded a move by Governor Rick Snyder to establish a state commission to examine Michigan's failing public defense system and recommend needed legislative reforms to ensure every citizen's constitutional right to effective legal representation, regardless of their ability to afford it.
According to the Governor's Executive Order, the Indigent Defense Advisory Commission will be charged with the responsibility of analyzing "existing data that is needed to assist policymakers in making decisions on the appropriate funding and staffing levels to ensure effective public criminal defense services," and making "recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature for improvements to the system of providing legal representation for indigent criminal defendants."
In reaction, Peter Cunningham, Executive Director of the Campaign for Justice, said: "The Campaign applauds Governor Snyder for taking this important step and recognizing the crucial need for public defense reform in Michigan. It is widely recognized in Michigan and across the United States that our public defense system needs to improve, and for years, the Campaign has been advocating for legislation to reform our system in order to meet the basic constitutional standards Michigan residents deserve and taxpayers expect. This commission presents a true opportunity for needed reform."
In 2008, advocates for reform founded the Michigan Campaign for Justice. Together with its 74 coalition partners, the Campaign has worked to educate lawmakers and the public about the inadequacies in Michigan's public defense systems. In the 2009-10 session of the Michigan Legislature, bipartisan legislation was introduced to address systemic problems throughout the state.
Earlier this year, the Campaign partnered with the state and national ACLU in releasing Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems: Portraits of Michigan's Constitutional Crisis, a report documenting Michigan's failure to ensure that public defense attorneys have the tools they need to provide constitutionally adequate legal representation and the devastating impact of this failure on the lives of 13 public defense clients.
"Steadily and surely, momentum has been building in Michigan to reform our failing public defense system," said Dr. David Schuringa, President of Crossroad Bible Institute in Grand Rapids and member of the Campaign for Justice Board of Directors. "This announcement is exciting. It builds on this momentum, and we are anxious to work with the Governor, the Legislature and this new commission to apply the principles required to fix Michigan's public defense system and make the system constitutional and cost-effective."
Circuit Court Judge and Campaign for Justice Board Member Wade McCree concluded: "Today's announcement from Governor Snyder is a welcome step in the effort to uphold every citizen's constitutional rights. It is time Michigan undertake desperately needed and long overdue reforms to improve our broken public defense system. Every Michigander can be proud of the Governor's commitment to the Constitution and that he tasked the new Commission with this critical work."
The Michigan Campaign for Justice heads a broad-based coalition of organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum fighting for a fair and effective public defense system in Michigan. The Campaign believes that legislative reform is needed to improve cost effectiveness, protect the public's safety and ensure one's Constitutional right to counsel. Find out more at: mijustice.org.