What We Do

Bates, Cassie

About the Public Defender

The Muskegon County Public Defender provides legal defense representation for indigent and partially indigent persons.  We represent people who have criminal, child neglect and abuse and juvenile delinquency cases.  We also represent people who, due to mental health issues, may have become a danger to themselves or others.  We are the counterpart to prosecutors throughout the county.

Current Public Defender

The current director of this department, Fred Johnson, Jr., is appointed by the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners and serves at their pleasure.  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.  


As of the spring of 2018, there are nineteen county employees at the Muskegon County Public Defenders office.  There are fourteen lawyers, four legal secretaries, and one Director of Holistic Services.  Augmenting their numbers are a varying number of volunteer student interns.  When necessary, professional volunteers and experts assist in completing the mission. The Office is organized into two divisions  - the Family Division and the Criminal Division - that provide legal representation for our clients. 


The Public Defender represents the vast majority of criminal defendants throughout the County in all state and local criminal matters, including probation violations, extradition and line-ups. This Office also represents a party in all neglect and abuse allegations in this County as well as almost all juvenile delinquency matters.  If a person is alleged to be a danger to others or him or herself due to mental health disorders, we represent that person too.

Training & Experience

By reason of training and experience, the Office of the Public Defender has become a pool of specialized knowledge and diverse skill sets which can be brought to bear on behalf of clients.  We have lawyers right out of law school and as well as attorneys with 30-plus years experience.  We have people from outside this community as well as folks who are home grown.  Our legal secretaries are all veterans of County service who know more than the rules: they know how to get things done and they know how to manage lawyers. Our interns bring us energy and innovation.  Their passion is contagious and their energy recharges us.  Together, we are among the most formidable law firms in the State.