CHARLOTTE, Mich. — Eaton County officials say that due to some state-level policy changes, they are able to help more people who cannot afford to hire their own lawyer.
For years, people who couldn’t afford an attorney in Eaton County received court-appointed attorneys, but the problem was the county only paid attorneys $40 an hour. , which is at the bottom of the pay scale.
It was difficult for people to have a good defense.
However, about 10 years ago, the American Bar Association reviewed the way these cases were handled and coordinated some changes at the state level to bring the quality of legal care to the same level as the attorney’s offices.
In Eaton County, the change is evident.
“We changed our grant model with the state from a trustee office to a fully staffed office. That changed in June 2021,” said Timothy Havis.
Havis is the lead public defender for the Eaton County Public Defender’s Office.
Before getting his new role, he was the administrator, which meant a judge would assign a case, and he would work to find a lawyer in the area to take the case.
Today it has 11 lawyers on staff, investigators, a social worker and administrative staff.
“We are probably dealing with well over two thousand cases. They can be minor trafficking cases or more serious cases such as murders,” Havis said.
Havis says having to appear in court can be daunting for many people, but his team works hard to make that process easier for the people they represent.
Now that the whole team is operating in a physical office, things are accelerating.
“We are finally getting to the point where we can take care of these backlogs of cases. I understand that other areas of the county court system are also on hold. Our volume and numbers have gone down during COVID because fewer people were coming in in the system, but now we’re starting to get to pre-COVID levels,” Havis said.
Havis says every case that comes to court is investigated by his team to find out if the defendant is eligible to be represented by his office.
If you want to learn more about the Eaton County Public Defender’s Office, we have a link here.
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