In a unanimous order, the Michigan Supreme Court on Friday unanimously declined to reverse the Court of Appeals decision to let a case that challenges the delivery of public defense counsel services in three Michigan counties proceed. The plaintiff in Duncan v State of Michigan, LC No. 07-000242-CZ, claims Michigan has failed in its constitutional duty to provide competent counsel for indigent people faced with a loss of liberty by delegating the duty to individual counties without adequate funding or oversight to ensure constitutional sufficiency.
Rather than accept any of the state's arguments for summary judgment, the Court remanded the case to the trial court to re-examine the issue of certifying the class, based on new rules created since the trial court’s initial ruling. The order said: "This case is at its earliest stages and, based solely on the plaintiffs’ pleadings in this case, it is premature to make a decision on the substantive issues. Accordingly, the defendants are not entitled to summary disposition at this time."
The order was celebrated by two organizations that have championed the cause of public defense reform in Michigan -- the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA), which authored a pivotal report in 2008 on the deficiencies of Michigan's public defense, and the Campaign for Justice, a coalition formed to advance reform. The State Bar of Michigan, which supports reform consistent with 11 principles, has partnered with both organizations to work for change. NLADA called the Court's order "a major victory for the right of poor criminal defendants to seek justice." Laura Sager, executive director of the Campaign for Justice, said "This ruling is good news and it is a clarion call to state legislators that reform is needed and that their action on this important constitutional problem is required.