Upwards of 85% of all criminal and juvenile cases both nationally and locally involve indigent defendants to some degree. Most of those cases are handled by public defenders as a mandated constitutional requirement.
Consistent with that requirement, the 40 year-old Office of Public Defender (http://publicdefender.ewashtenaw.org) regularly handles the overwhelming majority of all criminal and juvenile cases throughout Washtenaw Count. We are the first choice for appointment by the courts. Naturally, our Washtenaw County Prosecutor (or a village, township, or city attorney) is always our adversary in the courtroom as we all seek collaboratively to ferret out the truth accurately in pursuit of justice.
Due in part to our heavy caseload, veteran Cooley law professor Norm Fell and I collaborated many years ago to establish a very special “Trial Lawyer Practical Experience Program” in which Cooley Law School students intern with us as student trial lawyers. Over the ensuing years, hundreds of outstanding Cooley interns have provided invaluable assistance to our dedicated staff of 15 veteran public defenders. Cooley students are fully integrated extensions of our staff lawyers, functioning as:
- student trial lawyers
- skilled researchers and
- invaluable teachers and trainers of other incoming volunteers.
As student trial lawyers, Cooley students actively participate in
- sentencing hearings
- probation violations
- personal protection orders
- Friend of the Court matters
- bond reduction hearings and
Our program gives Cooley students the great opportunity to:
- interview, counsel, and represent indigent defendants
- engage in the practice of law under the supervision of experienced attorneys
- appear in court frequently
- work with a highly skilled group of attorneys who have been trained to be outstanding supervisors and mentors
- polish public speaking skills
- work in a collegial, cooperative atmosphere with other students
- apply the legal theories learned in the classroom to real cases with live clients and
- engage in negotiations and conversations with prosecuting attorneys in the community.
Cooley interns also participate actively in a wide array of investigative research and studies. Those activities encompass:
- the adequate and accurate recording of events, codes, and data in case files and computers for important appeals where appropriate
- timely determination of conflicts of interests
- assessing the reliability and accuracy of related identifications
- sequential memorializing of events and procedures related thereto
- improvement of the use of information technology to enhance quality and cost effectiveness
- accurate recording of interviews of clients and witnesses
- analyses of police reports
- productive visits to crime scenes to gather available facts
- informed counseling to clients for a more realistic evaluation of their cases and
- determination of alternative case dispositions that include the availability of alcohol and drug abuse therapy, educational opportunities, and the resolution of family problems.
Cooley student interns and externs over the years have been signally outstanding. That is why we always look forward to assisting them with excellent recommendations and to actually hiring them as permanent members of our staff whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
Lloyd E. Powell
Washtenaw County Public Defender