Hearings on public defense to begin

LANSING, MI – A state House subcommittee will begin work Tuesday on a plan to ensure that criminal defendants who can't pay for an attorney are still well-represented in court. A report released a year ago says Michigan has one of the worst public defender systems in the nation.

Laura Sager is with the Michigan Campaign for Justice. She says the public is losing confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system, and the Legislature needs to act: "We need reform and the cost of failing to reform is just too great."

Sager says that includes errors in trials that result in expensive appeals, and sending the wrong people to prison. Those kinds of mistakes led the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the state.

She says a judge may order taxpayers to foot the bill for an expensive solution if the Legislature does not act soon.

The chairman of the subcommittee says one solution might be to create an independent agency of lawyers to handle indigent defense work. The big question is, how to pay for the system as the state faces a budget crisis.