County sues over indigent defense services standards

Oakland County has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of both the 2017 amendments to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) Act and the MIDC’s approved standards.

The county contends the new rules infringe upon the authority of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Oakland County filed the complaint against the State of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and the MIDC in the Michigan Court of Claims.

“We all agree that individuals charged with a crime in Michigan have a constitutional right to legal representation even if they cannot afford a lawyer,” said Oakland County Corporation Counsel Keith Lerminiaux. “But any changes aimed at our legal system must be constitutional.”

The lawsuit also contends that the MIDC created its rules and procedures in violation of Michigan’s Administrative Procedures Act.

In May, a panel appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder recommended  new standards for criminal defense services provided to the poor to establish and enforce uniform standards across the state.
Each county court system was asked to develop a compliance plan and establish a budget. Plans are due later this year for state review.

The four counts in the Oakland County lawsuit read:

• The MIDC Act allows the MIDC to regulate the practice of law in violation of the separation of powers doctrine under Article 3, §2 of the Michigan Constitution and is therefore unconstitutional.

• The MIDC Act and the LARA approved standards are invalid and unconstitutional because they infringe on the Michigan Supreme Court’s exclusive authority to promulgate rules governing practice and procedure under Article 6, §5 of the Michigan Constitution.

• The MIDC Act and the LARA approved standards are invalid and unconstitutional because they infringe on the high court’s exclusive authority to superintend the administration of justice in all state courts under Article 6, §4 of the Michigan Constitution.

• The MIDC established rules and procedures are invalid and do not have the force of law because the MIDC is not compliant with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.

The lawsuit also hints at Headlee Amendment violations.

The Headlee Amendment requires the state to reimburse local governmental units for any new state-mandated programs.

The Oakland County complaint outlines how the MIDC Act “requires all funding units to determine their ‘local share’ .. for indigent defense services.” Plus, Oakland County says that the county “is planning for the restructuring of County operations to take over the delivery of indigent defense services and planning for the implementation of courthouse and county jail building renovations required by the MIDC Act and LARA approved standards.” It would do so at significant cost.

“This lawsuit may be just the first step in correcting egregious errors with the amended MIDC Act and the subsequent rules and standards established by the MIDC and LARA,” Lerminiaux said.