Case arguing inadequacy of Michigan's funding for indigent criminal defense is considered again
A class action has been pending in Ingham County since 2007 with regard to whether Michigan adequately funds indigent legal services that are mandated by the federal and state constitutions. The case has been to the Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court several times as the State has attempted to secure its dismissal without a trial.
This week the case made another stop at the Court of Appeals, where the Court's philosophical disagreements were once again put on display. Judges Beckering and Fitzgerald composed the majority and again refused to grant the State summary disposition. Judge Whitbeck concurred in much of the opinion but dissented on the fundamental point. Judge Whitbeck believes that the question of adequate funding for indigent defendants in criminal cases should be a public policy question for the Legislature. The majority clearly believe that the question of adequate funding of the Court's agents (the attorneys appearing before it) to meet the courts' constitutional obligations, is a question that should be determined, at least on a threshold basis, by the court system.
They judges also disagree with regard to whether the action may be pursued in this form. Judge Whitbeck argues that since an individual accused has the right to prove inadequate assistance of counsel, the only place where these issues should be addressed is in the case of an individual criminal defendant who can prove a denial of constitutional rights. The majority disagree on a preliminary basis: they believe that if the case is allowed to go forward, it may be shown that the larger question should be addressed as a class action, rather than on a case-by-case basis.