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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Nice Try: Mich Supreme Court Takes a Pass on Constitutionality of Appointed-Attorney System

Last March, we posted on the ACLU's constitutional challenge to Michigan's court-appointed attorney system. Duncan v Michigan was then heading for oral argument before the Michigan Supreme Court and it looked like the challenge was going to acquire some legs.  Here is an update.

After hearing arguments in the case in April, the Supreme Court at first affirmed the 2-1 decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals, sending the matter back to the Ingham County Circuit Court (the trial court) for further trial proceedings to determine whether our court-appointed criminal defense system supplied criminal defendants their constitutional right to legal counsel. The Supreme court held that it was too early to dismiss the case below and the Ingham Circuit Judge did so prematurely.

The Supreme Court reversed course in July, granting the Attorney General's motion for reconsideration, vacating its previous order, and expressly adopting Judge William C. Whitbeck's 35-page dissent in favor of dumping the case at the summary disposition level.

What changed? What happened?

The high court was divided 4 justices to 3 on this reversal, with Justices Corrigan and Young joining Justice Markman's statement of concurrence. The majority simply pronounced that their prior order was wrong.  Four justices held that allowing the case to proceed further would amount to having the judiciary inappropriately determine Michigan's system of local funding and control of legal services to indigent people.

Justices Cavanagh and Hathaway joined Justice Marilyn Kelly's dissent, claiming that the certified class of litigants did have a "justiciable" action; that nothing new had been raised on reconsideration to justify reversing the high court's prior order; and that, "[t]oday's order slams the courthouse door in plaintiffs' face for no good reason."

Among others, we here at the Law Blogger eagerly anticipated seeing how the proofs would have developed regarding the delivery of legal services to the poor people of neighboring Genesee County. For the moment, however, and probably forever, the appellate courts have passed on deciding the issue.

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