By David Carroll, Director of Research, National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA)
The Michigan Supreme Court entered a stunning Order on July 16, 2010 reversing its unanimous decision of just two months ago in the American Civil Liberties class action lawsuit (read original complaint in Duncan v. State). By entering summary judgment in favor of the defendants in the case (the State of Michigan and Governor of Michigan), the court puts an end to any opportunity for the plaintiffs to prove they are being denied the effective right to counsel as a result of Michigan's inadequate and ineffective system of public defense. Three of Michigan's Supreme Court judges dissented from the ruling, saying: "Today's order slams the courthouse door in plaintiffs' face for no good reason." Instead, they are relegated to being represented in their pending cases by lawyers who lack the time, tools, training and resources to provide them with the assistance of counsel that our American system of justice promises to all.
In Michigan, as in most states throughout the country, the state Supreme Court has final responsibility for overseeing the justice system and ensuring that the rights guaranteed to everyone are applied in that system. In other words, it is the courts that we go to when we believe we are being wronged in some way and it is the courts that provide us a remedy for that wrong. The Michigan court adopted, as its reasons for its Order today, the dissenting opinion from the Court of Appeals, which says, in effect, that the courts are washing their hands of any responsibility for overseeing the public defense system and that instead "the executive and legislative branches can and should address such matters." The ACLU has vowed to keep on fighting: "Our fight to fix the indigent defense system is far from over and we are currently weighing our legal options."