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Panel meets to discuss Michigan's public defense system

By Laura Weber, Michigan Public Radio Network

AUBURN HILLS, MI – A panel of law professionals met Friday in Auburn Hills to discuss how and why Michigan's public defender system is inadequate.

Michigan's system is run by counties. And the panel members agreed a statewide system would help insure defendants in all areas receive the same legal counsel opportunities. The panel compared the state's current system with that of Montana, which changed from a county to state system three years ago.

Meghan Sutton is a private attorney in Montana who does contract work as a public defender. She says Montana is still working out kinks in the new system.

"There are some hiccoughs and there are some problems and I think probably our biggest complaint is - as the private bar - is we're not paid enough money," she says. "But certainly the money to get good experts and to get mental health professionals and the ability to access cultural resources, if we need that, has definitely improved."

The Michigan Campaign for Justice sponsored the panel, and is working to reform Michigan's public defense system before the end of 2010.

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