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Bill to reform Michigan's public defender system comes before Senate panel

A courtroom
Bill Ledbetter
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A Senate panel has begun hearing arguments on a bill to fix the way Michigan counties provide defense attorneys to the poor.

The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he’s still skeptical about the legislation.

Senator Rick Jones says it’s clear a handful of counties are having problems appointing competent public defenders. But he says he still doesn’t see it as a statewide issue that requires sweeping changes.

Nancy Diehl is the former president of the State Bar of Michigan, which supports the bill.

“I’ve been sitting here listening. There’s absolutely a problem. And I think, as one person said, even one innocent person going to prison, isn’t that one too many?” she said.

The bill would create a state panel to set standards for appointing public defenders. Supporters point to a number of studies that rank Michigan’s public defense system among the worst in the country.

Some Michigan counties worry the changes could cost them, even if they’re already doing a good job.

The state House has already passed the bill out of committee. It now awaits a vote on the House floor.

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