Tri-county defense: New Public Defenders Office explained

Graham jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette The Keweenaw County Court House in Eagle River.

EAGLE RIVER — The Keweenaw County Board unanimously approved a motion at last week’s Board meeting to form the Tri-County Public Defenders Office. According to David Gemignani, public defender, each county would need to contribute the amount of a three-year average of money expended on indigent defense within that county. For Keweenaw County, that amounts to $8,351. Houghton County’s contribution totals $162,298.59, while Baraga County’s total amounts to $33,518 per year, for a total of $204,179.59. These amounts would be capped, Gemignani said, with the state providing about $590,000 per year.

“To get the funding from the state,” Gemignani said, “each county would have to apply for a grant to the state that would total up to that $594,000. To get the funding from the state, each county would have to apply for a grant to the state that would total up to that $594,000.”

Keweenaw County’s grant application would be for $29,508 from the state, for the state’s share of the county’s joining the consortium, Gemignani said.

Applications for grant funding must be made to the Indigent Defense Commission no later than November 20, 2017.

“The legislature has to fund this,” Gemignani told the board, “but after our proposal is sent into the commission, they’re going to have to respond to us if this meets their principles and their standards for compliance, and then I guess there will have to be a determination on when the funding will be available, and how it will be available.”

The National Legal Aide and Defender Association (NLADA) published a report of which Michigan was the subject. The report stated the NLADA found that none of Michigan’s 83 counties were constitutionally adequate in providing indigent defense and that Michigan ranked 44th out all 50 states in per capita indigent defense spending. As a result, governor Rick Snyder signed the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission Act into law in July, 2013. The legislation requires the MIDC to create standards for each of the counties to follow with regards to providing indigent defense to criminal defendants.

Expenses for forensic tests, expert witnesses and etcetera, would be covered by the overall budget of the public defender’s office, Gemignani said.

The state legislature has yet to provide funding for these arrangements.