About

Mission

To provide top quality legal representation that ensures a human being’s constitutionally mandated right to justice without regard to their ability to pay. To engage the community through education of its heritage of fairness without regard to race, creed, color, religion, orientation, or political views and the value of a fair legal system in a free society. To partner with other community members and organizations to improve quality of life and selfless charity. To pioneer new methods to prevent crime, create workable solutions to rehabilitate persons who have violated the law, and ensure the gifts of a safe and welcoming community for all.

Vision

No person will be deprived of life, liberty, or justice in Muskegon County solely because they cannot afford a qualified, ethical, and zealous lawyer.

About the Public Defender

"Meet 'em, plead 'em, and leave 'em!"

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. There is still a prevailing stigma that public defense attorneys are “pretend attorneys” who don’t truly care about a person’s due process rights. Although historically Michigan has proven this stigma semi-true, 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 current director of this department, Fred 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. Fred oversees two divisions; criminal and family.

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, which is a unique division itself, 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 gotten 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.