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Kalamazoo County Commissioners vote to establish a local public defender office

Kalamazoo County Commissioners vote to establish a local public defender office.{ } (WWMT Zack Lawler)

Kalamazoo County leaders approved the first ever local public defender office with the goal of providing better resources for those who cannot afford a lawyer.

Newschannel 3's Anna Giles spoke with commissioners in Kalamazoo County about what this means for the community.

One commissioner called the vote on Tuesday, historic. The vote sets up a nonprofit, nonpartisan, fully-funded public defender office in Kalamazoo County.

The Kalamazoo County court system contracted out for public defenders and Commissioner Stephanie Moore called that system, inefficient and underfunded.

Moore said court-appointed public defenders didn't have the time or resources to properly work on cases to the detriment of those they were representing.

Moore said creating a separate public defender office will level the playing field within the justice system.

She said Michigan was sued roughly a decade ago for failing to provide adequate legal resources for those who cannot afford it, sparking the effort to create this office.

Moore said, "We understand particularly low income people, more than likely people of color have an encounter with police, with the criminal justice system and often do not even have a fighting chance because they just can't mount the defense they need to succeed. And this allows them to do this. This is historic not just for Kalamazoo County but for the state and country as a whole."

Moore said the program will cost roughly $5 million with a mix of state and county money. The money for the office is available from Kalamazoo County, but still needs to be appropriated for the state of Michigan.

She expects the office to open January 2019 and hopes it will improve trust between the community and justice system.

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