New director named to federal defender office


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

A Wayne State University Law School alum who has spent the past nine years in federal and public defender roles in Detroit and Washington, D.C. has been chosen as the new executive director of the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Michael Carter, who earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan in 2002, will begin his new post as head of the FCDO on Dec. 7, according to Kathy Humphrey, a longtime Dykema attorney who serves as board president of the federal agency.

Carter, who could not be reached for comment on his appointment, was among nearly a dozen candidates for the position, which has been filled on an interim basis since March by Richard Helfrick, formerly the chief deputy of the FCDO for the Eastern District.

Helfrick was appointed acting chief upon the retirement of Miriam Siefer, who had guided the office for 25 years.

“We had a richness of applicants to consider for the position,” said Humphrey, head of the nine-member FCDO board of directors. “It was a very talented, dedicated, and skilled set of people to choose from and we only wished that we had more positions to fill.”

Humphrey said that Carter “rose to the top” of the list of candidates for four key reasons — his years of trial experience, his supervisory and management background, a “commitment and passion” for criminal defense work on behalf of indigent clients, and a talent for “connecting” with a wide range of people.

“The fact that he possessed a lot of trial experience was very important to us,” Humphrey said on behalf of the FCDO board. “The job obviously involves a lot of administrative responsibilities, but it also is important that the executive director be experienced in jury trials of serious and complex cases with high-stakes consequences.

“That’s the background the executive director needs in order to have highly effective relationships with the defender attorneys in the Eastern District, the CJA Panel members, other executive directors of Federal Defenders around the country, and Washington’s Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. It is also the background the executive director needs for effective communication with court, the United States Attorney, and federal law enforcement agencies.”

After graduating from Wayne Law in 2007, Carter was an associate attorney for four years with the Law Office of John A. Shea in Ann Arbor, where he handled criminal defense work in state and federal courts.

He then spent the next four years of his career as a staff attorney for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, representing adult and juvenile clients in “hundreds of felony and misdemeanor cases prosecuted in D.C. Superior Court.”

In January 2016, Carter returned to Detroit to take a job as a deputy defender with the Federal Defender Office, the forerunner to the FCDO. He worked at the FDO until August 2019 when he became a supervising attorney with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit, representing adult clients in felony cases prosecuted in the Third Circuit Court of Wayne County while also administering the Wayne County Criminal Advocacy Program.

“Over the course of his career, Mike has handled hundreds and hundreds of felony and misdemeanor cases, many of which went to trial,” said Humphrey. “It also was important to us that he had supervisory experience and had a track record of managing people, which he has gained while with Neighborhood Defender Service.”

In addition, said Humphrey, Carter has a “special vision” for the FCDO and has “offered a number of terrific ideas” to make the local agency increasingly effective in the months and years ahead.

“In light of the pandemic, he and we as a board are going to face a whole new set of challenges, doing our best to represent our clients while keeping everyone as safe as possible,” Humphrey said. “Being innovative and flexible are going to be paramount in the upcoming months.”

While the FCDO has been forced to “tighten our belts” during the coronavirus outbreak, the agency has avoided temporary or permanent layoffs, Humphrey indicated.

“We’ve been fortunate in that regard, but that could change if the pandemic is prolonged,” Humphrey said of the agency’s budget situation.

The likelihood of continued uncertainty — and the need and the ability to adapt to that terrain — also factored in to the choice of Carter as the new FCDO chief, Humphrey said.

“He has a unique way of connecting with people that even comes through Zoom,” Humphrey said of Carter, who was an executive board member of the Black Law Students Association while in law school. “He impressed us as someone who is a really good listener, while also possessing the skill to connect with those from all walks of life. Those are going to be really important traits to have in his new role.”


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