Moore named as indigent criminal defense administrator

BIG RAPIDS — Mecosta County officials say a new hire will help put the county in compliance with new state regulations while maintaining the quality of defense for indigent defendants.

Karen Moore, a longtime attorney in the mid-Michigan area, was hired last week as an independent contractor to serve as the new indigent criminal defense administrator for Mecosta County. It’s a local answer to new requirements for counties statewide, developed by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) to improve legal standards for criminal defendants who can’t afford legal representation.

“(Moore) has done indigent work, she has done prosecution, she’s been a magistrate. We think she will fit very well administering our system,” Mecosta County Administrator Paul Bullock said Friday.

Bullock said Moore has already been hired in the same capacity by Newaygo, Osceola and Oceana counties, and will likely also end up working for Lake, Gladwin, Clare and Mason counties.

“There are six counties that went together in the search process. We could’ve hired different people, but we all settled on Ms. Moore. We didn’t know it was going to happen, but we were hoping it might. Our belief is that aggregating this position, having more coverage area, can only be more helpful in the long run,” Bullock said.

Bullock said Moore’s primary responsibility will be to ensure Mecosta and the other counties she works with are in compliance with the requirements for grants from the state that pay for new services being offered to indigent defendants; as well as new standards for the attorneys who represent them.

Among the new requirements; attorneys will now be available for indigent defendants at the time of their arraignment, and lawyers who do represent clients that can’t otherwise afford an attorney will have to undergo training that wasn’t required previously. Bullock expects changes to happen in Mecosta County courts by spring.

“In talking to the defense bar, the courts and prosecutor in this county, it’s our belief that the representation that has been provided in this county has been appropriate. We’ve been taking care of our indigent defendants and providing them with quality representation. This whole issue and their mandate to implement standards comes with many counties already doing a good job,” Bullock said.

“This is the state’s answer to ensuring an adequate level of representation all across the state. They’re trying to get budgetary issues out of the equation of providing appropriate, adequate indigent defense, statewide.”

Some counties are taking a different route to complying with the new requirements. In Manistee and Benzie counties, for example, a Regional Public Defender’s Office was created earlier this month, and attorneys are being hired specifically to represent indigent defendants. Bullock felt Mecosta’s process was better for the area.

“Once you start a public defender’s office, those people can’t go practice anything else. Our thought was, we already have some really good members of the (State Bar of Michigan) who are providing indigent defense. Our preference would be to still let them be attorneys in the community. We felt the best thing for us was to maintain the system we have, and come into compliance with these new standards,” Bullock said.

The county is receiving a grant from the state of $286,579 to help pay for the expense; combined with a local share of $163,317, the amount provides for the total budget of the new position.

Moore could not be reached for comment.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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