DUNCAN ET AL v. STATE OF MICHIGAN
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> News: Landmark Lawsuit Seeks Repairs to Michigan Justice System (2/22/2007)
My name is Pam Anderson and my brother, Craig was going to be a plaintiff in this lawsuit. Craig is 53 years old and, aside from a few driving violations, he has no criminal record. He is a family man and a good brother. He worked as a trucker for over 30 years before taking a construction job so he could spend more time with his kids.
Craig was in an accident a number of years ago, broke his neck, and had to have some vertebrae fused. He has been on painkillers, but the pain has gotten steadily worse. He started taking illegal drugs to try and deal with it and developed a drug problem.
In January, Craig was in a parked car using drugs. The police were called. They removed Craig from the car, searched it and found the drugs. They also found a cane that my brother has been using to help him walk. This particular cane is a novelty cane that has a knife in it, but nobody claims he was violent. He cooperated with the police and was arrested peacefully. He was charged with possession of drugs and a concealed weapon.
After his arrest, my brother was assigned a public defender. His experience with the public defense system in Michigan was awful. The public defender assigned to his case kept changing and none of them had any time for Craig. The lawyers didn’t take our calls, they knew nothing about him or his case, and they did not do anything to help him.
After his arrest, Craig was put in jail. We could not pay the bail amount, so he had to stay there. It was almost ten days before he even met his first public defender and he stayed with Craig for only a few minutes. I was incredibly worried about Craig. He suffers not only from addiction but also from chronic pancreatitis and he was not getting his medication. I just wanted to get him out of jail and get him the help he needs.
Craig’s first court appearance was about a week later. I went to court because I wanted to try to talk to the judge. A public defender was there to represent Craig, but it was not the lawyer who had come to see him in jail. Craig had never met this lawyer before. At the hearing, I watched as the lawyer discussed the charges with the prosecutor. I actually heard her ask the prosecutor what the charges were. She knew nothing about my brother’s case, and she said almost nothing at the hearing. Bail was set, this time with bond, but it was still too high. Craig went back to jail.
After the hearing, both Craig and I tried to contact his lawyer a number of times, but we got no response. Later, we learned that the public defender actually assigned to Craig’s case was a third lawyer and not the one who appeared at the hearing. I left messages for this new lawyer saying I just needed a minute, but I never got a call back. Craig also tried several times to reach him, but got no response. I finally understood that that his public defender was not going to help Craig, so I tried to figure out what to do.
I called the sheriff’s office. The sheriff told me that Craig was eligible to go to treatment rather than jail and that he should try to get into a drug rehabilitation program. The sheriff told me to find a program that would take Craig and to talk to his lawyer about it. I found a program that Craig could go to, but his lawyer still did not respond to my calls. I called the judge to ask what we could do to get my brother into a program. The judge’s office told me I had to go through the public defender. When I said the public defender was not responding, they just told me again that the lawyer had to handle it. The experience was like running into a brick wall over and over again.
To this day, neither Craig nor I have ever heard from Craig’s public defender. He never so much as wrote a letter to Craig. Craig stayed in jail for about a month until I finally managed to come up with the money for his bond.
It is difficult to express how this system makes you feel when you are trapped in it. Frustration doesn’t say enough. Helplessness doesn’t either. It is really despair. You are just stuck. You can’t do anything without the lawyer but you can’t reach the lawyer and the lawyer doesn’t have any time for you.
Getting Craig into treatment would be better for him, better for his kids, better for everyone, but his public defender would not help us make that happen. Represented by a public defender, I did not have any confidence that my brother would receive justice. In fact, I was convinced that under the current system he could not.
Craig had another hearing in his case earlier this week. The night before, he panicked. He still had not ever heard from his attorney and had no idea what would happen at the hearing. He cobbled together all of the money he could and hired a private lawyer.
I consider my brother lucky. Although he had to borrow money from friends and relatives to do it, he was able to come up with the resources to get out of the public defense system. Other people are not so lucky; they are stuck in the broken system. I know from experience that for them there is no justice.
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