Michigan Bar Journal Features Articles by SADO's Sofia Nelson and MAACS's Bradley Hall and Kathryn Swedlow

Michigan Bar Journal January 2019
The Michigan Bar Journal has recently published articles by SADO’s Sofia Nelson and MAACS’s Bradley Hall and Kathryn Swedlow.

Sofia’s article,“Justice Delayed: What’s Next for Michigan’s Juvenile Lifers?”, recounts the legal background for the current resentencing of individuals who were sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles and recommends strategies for cases in which the prosecution is re-seeking a sentence of life without parole. In the article, Sofia notes that the Supreme Court opinions in Miller and Montgomery required the resentencing of juvenile lifers because children are less culpable for their actions and more capable of change. But Michigan prosecutors are re-seeking life-without-parole sentences in over 200 juvenile lifer Miller hearings, making Michigan an “extreme outlier.” By contrast, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio prosecutors are re-seeking life-without-parole sentences in 16 cases combined.

Sofia advises: “To prepare for a Miller hearing, the defense team – which should include a mitigation specialist – should become familiar with best practices for mitigation in death penalty cases.” These practices include extensive interviews and exploration of all aspects of the client’s history and the circumstances of the crime.
Summing up her experience in representing juvenile lifers, Sofia writes: “Who we were as kids is not who we are destined to be as adults. And if you define someone solely by his or her worst deed, you are likely overlooking the majority of who that person truly is. There is always the hope of change, of something better.”

Brad and Kathy’s article, “Ensuring Independence and Quality in a Managed Assigned Counsel System: Lessons Learned in Four Decades of the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System,” explores the history of MAACS and offers four lessons learned from that history to guide MAACS in aiding trial courts as they transition from traditional assignment systems to a system in which an independent entity regulates the assignment list and selects counsel for appointments.

Lesson 1 – Be independent but flexible – emphasizes that MAACS is ultimately responsible for roster attorney assignments, but courts may inform assignment decisions in certain circumstances.

Lesson 2 – Partner with multiple trial courts – describes MAACS’s creation of consolidated regional assignment lists (“MAACS’s most significant structural reform”) and notes the benefits of these lists: “[T]rial court partnerships foster innovation, consistency, and quality to the benefit of all stakeholders.”
Lesson 3 – Partner with a public defender – recounts the many benefits of the merger of MAACS and SADO, especially in making SADO’s training, expertise, and resources available to MAACS roster attorneys, most of whom are solo practitioners or work in small offices.
Lesson 4 – Engage in proactive oversight – describes the development of MAACS’s oversight of roster attorneys, which now includes a blend of formal performance reviews, ongoing informal interaction and oversight, and a new overview system for new MAACS attorneys.
In conclusion, the authors state: “The shift toward managed assigned counsel systems will present real challenges for courts, counsel, and funding units, but it will also present real opportunities for collaboration and innovation. As administrators who are familiar with the longstanding and deeply rooted problems with Michigan’s indigent defense system, we are encouraged by the pace of reform and excited to see the fruits of this process.”

Congratulations to Sofia, Brad, and Kathy on the publication of their excellent articles.

Read the Sofia’s full articles here.

Read Brad and Kathy's full article here.

Find the entire January 2019 Michigan Bar Journal here.