Biernat takes over reins of MCBA

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New bar association president hopes to raise profile of treatment courts

By Brian Cox
Legal News

Mount Clemens attorney Jon Biernat feels it’s a unique point in the legal profession to serve as the new 91st president of the Macomb County Bar Association.

He sees exciting possibilities in the state’s efforts to reform indigent defense and in the increasing effectiveness of specialty treatment courts. He also sees challenges to be addressed in technology’s growing influence on the profession and in counteracting a shrinking bar membership.

“It’s a good time to be involved with the bar,”?says Biernat, a bankruptcy attorney in his own firm, Biernat Law Group. A 2005 graduate of Cooley Law, Biernat has a legal pedigree. His father is retired 16th Circuit Court Judge James M. Biernat and his brother is James M. Biernat, Jr., who is currently a judge on the 16th Circuit.

Jon Biernat entered law after pursuing a career as a musician. A talented guitarist and singer, he’s been in bands since he was 14. After he graduated from Michigan State University, Biernat recalls that he would pile into a van with his guitar and a band and hit the road to perform gigs for little more than gas money, many times sleeping in the vehicle because the band didn’t have cash for a motel.

Now with a law firm to run and with two children, ages 6 and 3, he hits the road far less often, but he has been a member of the band The Oscillating Fan Club for almost 15 years. The band has four albums under its belt and has plans to release its latest album in the fall.

Recognizing that a significant percentage of the bar association is made up of criminal defense attorneys, Biernat plans to use his tenure as president to help facilitate the county’s implementation of state-mandated changes from the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission.

“It’s the beginning of a new chapter in indigent defense,” says Biernat.

The new rules require counties to provide court-appointed attorneys with continuing education, private spaces for discussions with their clients, limits on attorney workloads, and selection procedures that ensure attorneys have “independence from the judiciary.” The rules also require that attorneys be present with defendants every step of the way starting with the arraignment. The Indigent Defense Commission was created after a 2008 report from the Sixth Amendment Center ranked Michigan’s system among the worst in the nation. 

The bar association is currently working with the court to restructure fees for indigent defense counsel, according to Biernat, and also has partnered with Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan (CDAM) to provide continuing legal education.

Biernat also plans to turn a spotlight on treatment courts with the aim of promoting and building awareness among the bar association’s ranks of their effectiveness.

“Treatment courts are building across the state,” says Biernat. “The treatment courts’ focus is on therapy and testing rather than more punitive measures such as incarceration.”

Biernat wants to engage MCBA members with judges who are working in the treatment courts and plans to organize a symposium to help elevate the profile of the specialty courts.

Two challenges Biernat acknowledges that the MCBA faces is a shrinking membership and staying technologically relevant.

“My sense is that less and less people coming out of law school are going into private practice,” says Biernat, who hopes to encourage younger attorneys to join the MCBA in part by creating a stronger online presence.

A broader aim that Biernat has as president is to continue building the good will the bar association shares with the community.

The MCBA plans to host an Installation Celebration for Biernat and the new board of directors Sept. 26 at 5:30 p.m. at Three Blind Mice in Mt. Clemens. Cost is $50 a person. RSVP at (586) 468-2940 or macombbar.org.

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