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Public defenders in Wayne County underfunded and overworked

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U.S. courthouse in Detroit
Cynthia Canty interviews Dawn VanHoek, Wayne County's lead public defense consultant, for her response to the 6th Amendment Center report.

Stateside's Cynthia Canty recently spoke with David Carroll of the 6th Amendment Center about its new report, which concludes that public defenders in Wayne County are overworked, underpaid, and under-resourced.

He says there are only 16 public defenders for Wayne County when there should be 30.

Their caseloads are 145% of the national average, and they have no secretaries, paralegals or investigators.

They're also grossly underpaid.

"We're talking about attorneys that have 20 years at the bar, handling serious felony cases, including murders, making $35,000, it's really unheard of in this country," says Carroll.

Carroll says the situation violates the right of indigent defendants to get effective legal help.

Wayne County has hired Dawn Van Hoek as its head public defense consultant to help restructure the public defense system in Wayne County.  She says she is optimistic that changes, including more public defenders, can be made in the next year.

But she says there has to be adequate funding from the state on an ongoing basis.

"The state is in a position to step up and put some money behind all of this, because no matter of how good of intentions we have, it’s not going to amount to anything if we don’t have some money on the table," says Van Hoek.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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