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Public defender contract OK’d: Office now has three attorneys

HOUGHTON — The Houghton County Board approved a new public defender contract to bring the office in line with new state standards.

Houghton County approved contracts between the state and the county, as well one between Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties and a non-profit set up by public defender David Gemignani.

The state provided $409,367 for indigent defense, leaving a local share of $197,128 between Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties. The base cost was determined by taking a three-year average of the county’s expense in public defense from 2014-2016.

The new setup began in early October, Eric Forsberg, county administrator, said.

“Before we contracted just with Dave, and now Dave has a staff of himself and two other attorneys,” he said.

Gemignani handles circuit court cases, while the others will take different aspects of circuit court work, Forsberg said.

After the federal government determined Michigan’s public defense was substandard, the state established the Indigent Defense Council in 2013. It required counties to submit a plan to the state bringing their county defender officer in line with four standards. Those cover education of counsel, the first client interview, use of investigation and experts, and counsel at first court appearance and other key stages.

Under the state’s terms, the local indigent defense system must comply with the state’s minimum standards within six months of receiving the funds.

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