Kalamazoo County announces Kalamazoo Defender for new public defender offices

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PHOTO COURTESY OF  KALAMAZOO COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

As of Feb. 1, Kalamazoo County Government and Kalamazoo Defender finalized a contract establishing a public defender office to represent indigent adults in criminal cases before the County.

A media conference to showcase this partnership was held Feb. 5 in the Kalamazoo County Board Chambers.

“The Board of Commissioners has talked about the need for a public defender office for decades,” stated Kalamazoo County Board Chair Julie Rogers. “This partnership, while long overdue, is a giant step forward for equitable justice in our community.”

Kalamazoo Defender submitted a proposal in response to the County’s Request for Qualifications, released on September 7, 2018. That RFQ was based upon a plan submitted by Kalamazoo County Government to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC), and approved by the State in May 2018 The plan proposed awarding a local nonprofit a contract to operate a public defender office that would represent indigent adults in the 9th Circuit and 8th District Courts. The County selected and has now contracted with Kalamazoo Defender for that purpose.

Kalamazoo Defender’s Executive Director and co-founder, Josh Hilgart, said, “We took great care to research the nation’s best practices and adapt them to the framework developed by the County. What distinguishes Kalamazoo Defender from many public defender models is our intent to represent each client holistically, addressing issues collateral to the criminal charge that might otherwise undermine a defendant’s effort to escape life on the margins, and, when convicted, avoid recidivism.”

This system, treating the whole client, attracted fellow incorporator, Hon. William Schma, former 9th Circuit Judge, to the project. “The proposal of Kalamazoo Defender is unique in that it promotes a holistic approach to criminal defense,” said Judge Schma, who was instrumental not only in establishing and pioneering the Kalamazoo County Drug Court over 25 years ago, but in expanding that model across the nation. “Kalamazoo has already demonstrated how effective it is to treat the whole person,” said Schma, “Kalamazoo Defender’s approach enhances our criminal justice with this approach.”

“As a practitioner and having been born and raised in this community, I am extremely proud of the courage and fortitude of Kalamazoo County to address this important and significant need,” said James L. Liggins, Jr., cofounder, Kalamazoo Defender Board President, and attorney at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP. “I am confident that this initiative, once fully realized, will be an important and integral component of the continued success and forward momentum of the entire Kalamazoo community.”

Kalamazoo County Board Commissioner Stephanie Moore stated, “Prosecutors define what justice is in our community, indigent defense attorneys ensure that the scales of justice are balanced by protecting the rights of the accused regardless of economic or social status.”

Kalamazoo Defender will begin taking all assigned cases by July 1, 2019.
 

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