The overwhelming majority of defendants in criminal cases nationwide and locally are assessed by courts to be indigent or partially indigent resulting in a legally mandated requirement that public defenders be appointed to provide them with effective assistance of counsel. Thus, locally, our 42 year old Washtenaw County Office of Public Defender is appointed as first choice to handle the overwhelming majority of such cases for both adults and juveniles, with either our County Prosecutor, State Attorney General, city, village or township attorneys always being metaphorically “on the other side of the table” as all of the major components of our local criminal justice system (i.e. the police, prosecution, defense, courts and corrections) seek, both collaboratively and adversatively, to competently and cost effectively achieve justice.
The advent of electronic computerized technology and the availability of many highly qualified volunteers, has enabled public defense trial attorneys to become progressively more self reliant and self sufficient in handling increasing workloads with quality and cost effectiveness. Thus, it is in the context of cost effectiveness and enhancement of quality of service, with acceptance by our Public Defenders Association (Union), and unrelated to AFSCME, that two-thirds of our staff is comprised of select volunteers who serve us as student lawyers, investigators, skilled researchers and invaluable teachers and trainers.
Our volunteers expand the workload capacity of our streamlined core of devoted FTE public defenders who, for all adult clients, have not grown in size during the past 32 years - notwithstanding an 8 fold increase in workload. Approximately 10% of them who are in greatest need and/or who are specially qualified in education and experience to aid in teaching and training each new group of student interns arriving every semester are rewarded with some greatly leveraged compensation as part time employees. This is a teaching and learning experience that many students take for course credit through their law school or other institution of higher learning. Under the supervision of an attorney member of a Public Defender operational team, a student lawyer/investigator serves as an extension of the attorney by providing whatever assistance that is needed commensurate with their overall educational and experience qualifications.