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While Washtenaw County Public Defenders are highly trained, experienced and skilled trial lawyers who operate as teams that specialize in criminal law and local court processes, their services are provided only or primarily for those who do not have sufficient financial means to hire their own private counsel. Thus, anyone who can afford to hire a private attorney should do so. The Office of Public Defender is also an integral part of county government and has a smooth working relationship with all of the major components of the local criminal justice system. The competent and dedicated trial lawyers who comprise the staff of the Office can be relied upon to provide top notch defense as a calling and to fight zealously for what is in the best interests of their clients.
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Delphia T. Simpson has served as the County Public Defender since her appointment to the Office by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners in November 2017. Predecessors to successively hold the Office prior to that were Lloyd E. Powell, who was the Public Defender from 1980 to 2017, Judge George Alexander, Daniel G. Bambery, Magistrate Judge William R. Rekshan, and V. Carl Shaner. The Office has been an integral department of Washtenaw County Government since September 1971.
As the County Public Defender, Delphia T. Simpson is the attorney officially assigned to represent all clients of the Office. She is assisted by a highly skilled staff of 13 experienced trial lawyers who are also dedicated to public defense as a career. They are further augmented by 60 to 80 volunteer student lawyers and investigators who are also committed to public defense as a calling. All of these regular and volunteer staff personnel are assigned by Ms. Simpson to work on your case as a team whereby all of the resources of the Office can be readily available to provide you with top notch legal representation at all times. Ms. Simpson will also select and monitor one of her regular staff lawyers to lead the team that will work on your case, and that experienced trial lawyer will become the primary attorney responsible for your case.
While the Prosecutor has the duty to represent the State in proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt in the pursuit of justice, the Public Defender has the adversarial, check and balance duty to fight zealously and skillfully to ensure that a miscarriage of justice does not occur; that the innocent are not falsely or mistakenly convicted and punished while the guilty escape penalty and remain free to continue to harm, abuse and endanger the community; that individual constitutional rights are always protected, fair treatment and due process are always received and everything possible is always done for what is truly in the best interest of the client; and that clients are always competently and candidly advised to that effect with the clear understanding always that it is the individual client who retains the inalienable right to make the ultimate decision of whether to go to trial before a Jury or before a Judge (i.e. Bench Trial), or to accept a plea or sentence bargain.
If not incarcerated, a client is usually asked to appear on a specific court date or within a certain number of days after receiving a ticket from a police officer. At that time, the Judge will ask if you need an appointed attorney. Typically, you will fill out a form which asks questions about your income and expenses. The Judge decides whether or not the Public Defender will be appointed to represent you. If a person is incarcerated, the person will be brought before a Magistrate at the Washtenaw County Jail and asked about their income and expenses. After reviewing the information, the Magistrate will make a decision as to whether or not the Public Defender will be appointed. If the Public Defender is appointed, the attorney assigned to the case will go to the Washtenaw County Jail to meet with and interview an incarcerated client. In-custody Defendants may also be transported to a Misdemeanor Court to appear before the assigned Judge on a case.
On Felony cases, an arrest warrant is usually issued by the Prosecutor Office. The Defendant may be able to appear before a Magistrate for arraignment if they receive notice of the charges. Usually the person is arrested on the warrant by the police. In either situation, the Defendant will be asked whether or not a court appointed attorney is needed. A financial information form will be given to the Defendant to complete. If the Public Defender is appointed, in-custody clients can expect that a member of the Public Defender trial lawyer team will seek to timely meet with them well before their court date to discuss the case with them and review any police report information. Defendants who are not in custody are given information on how to contact the Office to find out who on the Public Defender team will be the lead trial lawyer assigned to them.
The Public Defender Office can be appointed at any time during Court proceedings, up to and including trial and sentencing. Our office is often appointed if the Defendant has a change in financial circumstances. We are also appointed as stand-by legal counselor Defendants who choose to represent themselves.
A Public Defender is made available on a weekly basis for 'Attorney Of The Week' duty. That attorney serves a community service function by answering general questions from the public. An Assistant Public Defender assigned as 'Attorney Of The Week' may also handle emergencies that would require the presence of an attorney.