Maybe it is time to get rid of all court appointed attorneys

As the article below shows, their are major problems with the court appointed attorney system in Michigan. While I am sympathetic to those who truly can’t afford an attorney, many people are given a court appointed attorney even when they have good jobs and should have assets to pay for one. They are just being cheap. I have many clients who are on disability or even unemployed who can still pay. Why can’t families help out? The bigger problem is that we don’t have a set definition “indigent” and we don’t have a culture that wants people to take responsibly for their own lives.

Their are no government appointed mechanics to fix your car or sell your house. We don’t expect the government to mow our lawns or buy or clothes. Yet me expect the same government that is spending astronomical amounts of money to prosecutor, convict and house a person to also pay to defend them? The conflict of interest alone should raise some eyebrows.

You get what you pay for. Like it or not, that is the reality.

Court Appointed Attorneys do Little Work

It would be nice if Courts would make this the law

I practice throughout West Michigan working almost entirely for people charged with a crime. One thing I have noticed lately, particularly is the lower population counties is a basic law of professional courtesy. I am talking specifically about counties such as Barry, Muskegon, Ionia, and Montcalm. Sometimes a person charged with a crime in these counties will want to hire an attorney from out of town. A client may do this for a number of reasons. Sometimes they believe that “big city” attorneys are somehow better (and to be honest, that is usually the case), they may have had a bad experience with the local attorneys, or they may feel that having someone who is not “part of the club” can give them an advantage and who is not afraid to ruffle feathers. All of these are valid reasons in certain cases.

Whatever the reason, one thing I have noticed recently is a form of overt discrimination against the out of town attorneys and their clients. If court starts at 8:30 AM (and the podunk counties always seem to want to start at the asscrack of dawn), I often don’t have my case called until 11. I think that is rude. I am on the clock and most likely my client has to get back to work. It is costing us money to sit there for nearly three hours to see the judge for 5 minutes. I am tired of seeing endless people paraded out in their jail suits with their sloppy court appointed attorneys. Neither they nor their attorney have anywhere to be. Why not let those who are actually paying for their defense go first? It is basic decency. If someone is unwilling to pay for justice, then why should they be rewarded? I feel this is a deliberate attempt to prevent people from hiring of town attorneys and rocking the boat.

They ought to call out of town attorneys first, then retained counsel, and last the court appointed attorneys with their in custody clients. I am proud to say that many times when in these counties, I am the only attorney whose client walks free and out free. You get what you pay for.

Don’t Believe Everything you Read in the News

On occasion, one of my clients and their case will be featured in the news. I am ethically prohibited from talking to the media in a way that would influence public opinion about the case, so I usually keep my mouth shut. That being said, there are a few a things that I need to get off my chest.

First of all, the media is looking for a headline and are rarely interest in reporting all of the facts. Their are two sides to every story and really are both of them given.

Second, a person charged with a crime is merely accused of doing something wrong. There has yet to be a trial, or any witnesses called against him. He has not yet had a chance to publicly state his side of events. Yet many people believe that just because some one is accused that he or she is guilty. That is a very dangers thing to assume.

And third, when a person is in fact acquitted or found not guilty, the media very often doesn’t report on this, or if they do, give it a very skimpy amount of coverage. When a person is falsely accused of a crime and is then exonerated, that is BIG news. The government got it wrong. In many cases, they flat out tried to frame some for something they didn’t do. That is wrong and it is disturbing little accountability society requires or our criminal justice system.

The Trouble with Bonds

In many criminal cases, the defendant is required to post some type of bond. There are four main types, a PR (personal recognizance bond), a cash bond, a cash/surety bond and a 10% bond. While clients typically prefer the PR bond, many judges do not grant PR bonds in most cases. I can say from experience that a person has a much better chance of getting a PR is he/she hires a lawyer and has him/her present at the arraignment. However, because a person is often arrested before he can speak with or hire an attorney, he is often stuck with whatever type of bond the judge decides to give out. Below is a brief description of each type of bond.

Types of Bonds

  •   A personal recognizance bond is a bond that does require  person to post any cash. Just sign a paper acknowledging the bond conditions and you are on your way.
  •   A cash bond requires that the full amount be posted in cash. Obviously most courts accept a credit card as well.
  •   A cash/surety bond means that you must post 10% of the bond have collateral for the rest of it.
  •   A 10% bond simply requires 1o% of the bond total be posted. There is not requirement for collateral.

A word of Caution

One of the most frustrating parts of being a criminal defense attorney is when a client calls you and has no money to retain you because they spent all their money on the bondsman. That is a completely backwards way of thinking. Get an attorney first and then see if he or she can lower the bond. Sometime a relative in jail is very insistent on “get me out.” However, you need to keep in mind big picture. It is far better to sit in jail for a few days and get a good lawyer than to get out only to go back later because you have an ineffective public defender. Do you want to get out or stay out. The family needs to keep the person in the jail calm and let the situation work itself out. Too many people are in jails and prisons that don’t have to be simply because they wanted to “bond out” right away. Very dumb and completely avoidable.

A recent story: A man called me yesterday. To get a bond for his son, who was facing serious drug charges, he put up both his vehicles and his modular home.  When his son didn’t show up for one of his court dates (he didn’t tell me the reason), the bondsmen went to his son’s house to arrest him and then seized the dad’s vehicles and his modular home leaving a 60 year old man with nothing; all because his son didn’t show put court once. I have had numerous clients not show up to court and their family’s property was not seized. What a shitty break.