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LARA Director Orlene Hawks Signs New Indigent Defense Standard Ensuring Adequate Compensation and Resources for Defense Counsel

Standard 8 Removes Disincentives in Public Defense Compensation Positioning Michigan as a National Leader in Indigent Defense

Orlene Hawks, the Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, approved the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission’s (MIDC) proposed Standard 8. This will ensure attorneys have the time, fees, and resources to provide effective assistance that is constitutionally guaranteed to indigent Michigan citizens facing criminal charges.

Currently six minimum standards are approved by LARA and being implemented statewide. This includes reforms to local criminal defense systems such as:

  • Providing counsel to all indigent Michigan residents facing criminal charges at all critical court appearances;
  • Employing only attorneys who have at least twelve hours of annual training relevant to indigent criminal defense;
  • Ensuring assigned counsel meets with their clients in a timely and confidential manner;
  • Providing indigent clients with adequate access to expert and investigative resources;
  • Guaranteeing criminal defense counsel are appointed and selected independently from the judiciary; and
  • Standardizing the statewide definition of indigency and applying access to services equally statewide.

“Step by step and standard by standard, Michigan is becoming a national leader in defending the constitutional rights of defendants in criminal cases, regardless of their income. Adoption of this standard is another major step forward, proving that bipartisan cooperation between the legislative and executive branch can achieve great things,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. “For the right to counsel guaranteed by the Constitution to be meaningful, this standard setting adequate pay and resources for public defenders is critically important. And to law students who are looking to a career as a public defender, this is a signal that Michigan wants to be your home.”

The MIDC found that Michigan’s public defense attorneys are often paid rates so low they barely cover the costs of running a law practice. Standard 8 provides adequate compensation and resources to defense counsel and updates payment models, required minimum hourly rates for attorneys, guidelines for case-related reimbursements, and suggested oversight mechanisms.

“Change of this magnitude continues to position Michigan as a leader in the field of public defense,” sad LARA Director Orlene Hawks. “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.”

This is yet another important step forward in the state’s long-term efforts to improve its indigent defense systems, increase public safety, and safeguard due process rights for Michiganders. Created in 2013 by the Michigan Indigent Defense Act, the MIDC is charged with developing and overseeing the implementation, enforcement, and modification of minimum standards for indigent criminal defense services, rules, and procedures to ensure that effective assistance of counsel is delivered to all indigent adults in Michigan.

“For decades, inadequate and stagnant pay has created a workforce of Michigan appointed attorneys who defend the poor in direct conflict with their own well-being and economic interests,” says MIDC Chair Christine Green. “We know that about 23% of appointed criminal defense attorneys have reported missing or making late payments on student loans due to financial stress, 15% have a second job, and 10% are on government assistance. Standard 8 is simply critical to attracting and maintaining the highest quality defenders.”

Pursuant to the MIDC Act, local indigent defense systems have 180 days to submit a plan for compliance with the new minimum standard. Those plans and corresponding requests for funding are reviewed and must be approved by the MIDC. The MIDC is composed of eighteen members appointed by the Governor. The MIDC meets multiple times throughout the year to review and approve local systems’ plans for compliance with existing minimum standards and to create and implement standards for indigent defense delivery services. A full-time staff works in Lansing, Michigan under the supervision of the Executive Director. 

Additional information about MIDC’s standards is available online: