About the Public Defender

Before the state created the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission in 2013, Michigan ranked 44th in the country for quality of public defense representation. This statistic is shocking and insulting to the individuals who relied on the public defense system because they could not afford to hire a lawyer. In the 1963 Gideon v Wainwright decision, the Supreme Court deemed that indigent Individuals have the fundamental right to counsel when accused with a crime.

The MIDC provided a statewide structure for public defense in each county and the reform of public defense started. Although there is still a prevailing stigma that public defense attorneys are lesser attorneys who don’t truly care about a person’s due process rights, major changes are happening within individual jurisdictions to protect the rights of clients assigned to their caseloads.

The Muskegon Board of County Commissioners was well aware of this perception and other problems when they approved one of Michigan’s first Public Defender office. They wanted a new day for the citizens of Muskegon and thus the Office opened to represent the county’s indigent residents in 2014.

The Muskegon County Public Defender operates under a Holistic Defense model. Not only do the attorneys provide assistance to mitigate and litigate consequences according to the charge’s our clients face, but our office has integrated social workers to the defense team. The social workers and attorneys work in tandem to address not only the legal concerns of the client but also to address psychosocial issues such as mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, etc.

The Chief Public Defender, Frederick D. Johnson, Jr., is appointed by the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners. He reports directly to the Muskegon County Administrator, Mark Eisenbarth. Mr. Johnson is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Thomas M. Cooley Law School and passed the Michigan Bar Examination in 1986.

Within the criminal division there are various teams of attorneys assigned to handle misdemeanor and felony charges. There are two dedicated research attorneys, and the criminal division also assures the representation of individuals at the time of their arraignment.

The family division is staffed with attorneys who represent clients on abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency, and probate cases. Most public defense offices in the state of Michigan do not have the privilege of an existing family division. The Muskegon Public Defender family division has received statewide recognition for its powerhouse attorneys; Justice Clement being one of their biggest supporters.

The individual consequences of an inadequate criminal justice system are that innocent persons can be charged and convicted. Victims do not receive fair redress when the system fails. The consequence to the community is lost faith in its judicial system. Like most of our government, the judicial system works because people believe it works and is fair. Having a defense team that is competent and willing to advocate keeps the innocent person charged with a crime from also being convicted.