On July 1, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a series of bills aimed at improving indigent defense in the state. Under current law, Michigan provides no direct funding for indigent defense at the state level. Instead, counties in Michigan are responsible for paying for legal services for indigent defendants, which has led to great disparities in the quality of legal services provided to such individuals throughout the state. The new law will create a commission to set state-wide standards for indigent legal representation, and will also provide counties with state funding in order to improve their indigent defense services.
This legislative effort is particularly noteworthy because it was spearheaded by an unlikely alliance between advocates from the right and from the left. Republican State Representative Tom McMillin and other conservatives joined forces with the ACLU and liberal activists to advocate for improvements in indigent defense services in the state. Rep. McMillin is featured in TCP’s film Defending Gideon, where he discusses the necessity of adequate indigent defense services to protect the personal liberties of individuals. Rep. McMillin held a viewing of Defending Gideon as part of his efforts to convince his legislative colleagues of the need for reform. Members of TCP’s Right to Counsel Committee also wrote a letter to Rep. McMillin and Judge Thomas Boyd in support of the legislation.