County keeps defender office

By John Minnis
Legal News

After firing its chief public defender in February and seeking proposals for contracting out its indigent defense work, the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners has decided to keep the public defender in house.

The county received only one response to its request for proposals.

Consequently, according to the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News, the board unanimously agreed to keep the public defender’s office intact and will advertise for a public defender and assistant public defender to fill at least one vacancy in that office.

Former Chief Public Defender Julie Beck was fired Feb. 8 when she told the county board that she could not do her job with two attorneys — herself and an assistant public defender — and one administrative assistant.

In her budget request, she sought two additional attorneys and one full-time investigator.

The public defender’s office in Sault Ste. Marie has some 1,000 cases to handle, more than half of them felonies, including two homicides.

The office was created in 1997 with two attorneys and one administrative assistant.

At the time of Beck’s firing, with four times the number of cases, the office still had only two attorneys.

Michigan is one of just seven states that have shifted the entire burden of public defense funding to the counties.

Chippewa is one of three counties with public defender’s offices. The other two are Washtenaw and Bay Counties.

As is the case with most counties, Chippewa formerly contracted out its public defender work.

It created the public defender office to save money.