CORUNNA — Tuesday the Public Safety and Courts Committee advanced annual funding for the Shiawassee County Public Defender’s Office that includes nearly $1 million in grant money.
In a unanimous vote, commissioners advanced approval of a grant contract with the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) totaling $945,865. The state contribution will be $839,784 and the county will pay $106,082.
That total covers the public defenders’ budget from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020. Final approval of the funding could come Thursday during the county board’s regular meeting.
Shiawassee County first established a Public Defender Office in 2018 and named attorney Doug Corwin to lead the office shortly afterward in late 2018. Previously, he had practiced law in Shiawassee County for more than 20 years and was often chosen by the court to represent poor defendants.
His office represents only indigent adult criminal defendants in 66th District and 35th Circuit courts. It does not represent juveniles or other parties involved in family court cases, parents in abuse/neglect cases or probate cases.
He said the Public Defender’s Office was an important creation because it helps ensure fairness in the court system, regardless of a defendant’s income.
At this time, the office has four full-time attorneys, one part-time attorney and two legal assistants.
Corwin said for the last three months his office has been responsible for representing the majority of criminal defendants in the county.
In the last three months, 370 new criminal cases were filed in 66th District Court and the Public Defender’s Office handled 320 of those.
For that same time period, in 35th Circuit Court, the office handled 50 of 69 criminal cases.
That means his lawyers have each taken roughly 60 cases each in the last three months, more than most other public defenders around the state, according to Corwin.
Tuesday, commissioners praised Corwin and the work his office is doing.
The MIDC was established through a 2011 executive order by former Gov. Rick Snyder to improve legal representation for indigent criminal defendants in the state’s 83 counties with the goal of ensuring that all indigent criminal defendants in Michigan receive equal representation.
In 2018, the state mandated counties do more to improve representation for indignant defendants.
The previous system required the appointment of local attorneys to represent poor criminal defendants.