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While Muskegon County Public Defenders are highly trained, experienced and skilled trial lawyers who operate as teams that specialize in criminal law and local court processes, their services are provided only or primarily for those who do not have sufficient financial means to hire their own private counsel. Thus, anyone who can afford to hire a private attorney should do so. The Office of Public Defender is also an integral part of county government and has a smooth working relationship with all of the major components of the local criminal justice system. The competent and dedicated trial lawyers who comprise the staff of the Office can be relied upon to provide top notch defense as a calling and to fight zealously for what is in the best interests of their clients.
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Fred Johnson has served as the Director of the Muskegon County Public Defenders since appointment by the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners in September of 2013. Mr. Johnson is the first Director of the Muskegon County Public Defenders.
The Muskegon County Public Defenders are housed in two buildings on the old "South Campus" site of Baker College. Using the map below, the criminal division is located at Building E, and the family division is located at Building F, on the 3rd floor. The two buildings are connected by a corridor between them. The buildings are west of the Probation Office and East of the County Register of Deeds. We suggest parking in the large lot behind the buildings using the Pine Street access.
The addresses are as follows:
Muskegon County Public Defender
155 E. Apple Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49442
165 E. Apple Ave., 3rd Floor
Muskegon, MI 49442
The Public Defender Office can be appointed at any time during Court proceedings, up to and including trial and sentencing. Our office is often appointed if the Defendant has a change in financial circumstances. We are also appointed as stand-by legal counselor for Defendants who choose to represent themselves.
If not incarcerated, a person charged with a crime is usually asked to appear on a specific court date or within a certain number of days after receiving a ticket from a police officer. At that time, the Judge will ask if he or she needs an appointed attorney. Typically, he or she will fill out a form which asks questions about income and expenses. Then the Judge decides whether or not the Public Defender will be appointed to represent the person.
If a person is incarcerated, the person will be brought before a Magistrate or Judge and asked about his or her income and expenses. After reviewing the information, the Magistrate/Judge will make a decision as to whether or not a Public Defender will be appointed. If the Public Defender is appointed, the attorney assigned to the case will go to the Muskegon County Jail to meet with and interview an incarcerated client.
On Felony cases, the Defendant may appear before a Magistrate for arraignment if they receive notice of the charges. Usually though, the person is arrested on the warrant by the police and taken to an arraignment. In either situation, the Defendant will be asked whether or not a court appointed attorney is needed. A financial information form will be given to the Defendant to complete if he or she desires a Public Defender.
If the Public Defender is appointed, in-custody clients can expect that a member of the Public Defender office before his/her court date to discuss the case.
Defendants who are not in custody are given information on how to contact the Office to find out which Public Defender has been assigned to him or her and encouraged to make an appointment to meet with the attorney.
Call our office at (231) 724-6585 and follow the prompts to reach a secretary who can tell you who your attorney is. At that time, you can set up an appointment to speak to him or her. Since your lawyer is most likely in court all day, it is very unlikely that he or she will be there to take your call or meet with you without an appointment.
Please keep in mind that we may not know yet who your attorney is. Attorneys are assigned after arraignment. Once our office is appointed by the Court to represent you, we are not notified by the Court for a few days and even then, may not get your discovery materials for days after, so it may be a few days after you are arraigned before we can speak to you intelligently about your case.
Fred Johnson is probably not your lawyer. As the County Public Defender, Fred Johnson is the attorney officially assigned to represent all clients of the Office. He is assisted by a highly skilled staff of experienced trial lawyers who are also dedicated to public defense as a career. These staff personnel are assigned by Mr. Johnson to work on your case as a team whereby all of the resources of the Office can be readily available to provide you with top notch legal representation at all times. Mr. Johnson will also select and monitor one of his regular staff lawyers to lead the team that will work on your case and that experienced trial lawyer will become the primary attorney responsible for your case. Mr. Johnson is the current Director of the Muskegon County Public Defenders so his name goes on everyone's appointment orders. Another attorney will actually be assigned to represent you in court.
Call (231) 724-6258 if the case is a misdemeanor or (231) 724-6251 if the case involves a felony. These are the telephone numbers to the district and circuit court clerks, respectively, who can give you information regarding upcoming court dates.
Let us know as soon as possible. The more advance warning you can give us, the better chance we can get the matter adjourned. It is very difficult to get adjournments a day or two before a hearing (especially when the hearing is a trial) and it gets more and more unlikely with each additional adjournment you request after the first one you receive. In the end, you are required to attend your hearings, and if you fail to do so, you may be subject to fines jail time.
Call us immediately!
Our ability to keep you out of jail after missing a court date diminishes the longer you wait. If you think you have a good excuse, make sure you bring any documentation you have with you so the judge does not have to take your word for it.
While turning yourself in after missing a court date can be frightening, it is worse if they have to go out and get you. If you miss a court date and then get picked up (arrested) you should expect to sit in jail before seeing your judge and a high bond afterward.
While the taxpayers of this county have generously paid to provide you with an attorney, they have not paid for you to have a choice. That is the bad news. The good news is the Muskegon County Public Defenders are not like other public defenders you may have had an association with. We care; however, sometimes we will have to tell you bad news or disagree with you. You may, at any time, hire your own lawyer if you are unhappy with the one you have. If you cannot afford to hire, you will receive a hard working advocate, but you cannot chose who that person is.
You may contact the director, Fred Johnson, Jr., at (231) 724-6585 extension 3. If you have a complaint, Mr. Johnson will assign a senior attorney to investigate or he will investigate himself. This does not mean he will agree with you. The law is like calculus: It is complicated and non lawyers do not know all the rules. It is your lawyer's job his or her job to tell you the best he or she knows, even if these are suggestions you do not agree with.
Tell us immediately!
Any time we may loose witnesses or evidence, do not try to fix it yourself. Call your lawyer and alert him or her to the problem.
You have the right to remain silent. Do it! Most of the people in prison talked themselves into those cells. No talking means no Facebook conversations. No tweets. No letters or phone calls from jail speaking of your case. No coded messages. No jailhouse lawyers or bunky discussions about your case, even if you trust him! No talking!
Gather your evidence. Get the names and contact information of your witnesses. Copy texts, email and Facebook postings that support your case. Read your police reports and be prepared to discuss your case with your attorney.
People who make appointments to see their attorneys get better results than people who wait until the day of trial and meet their lawyers at court.
A Public Defender does not have an attorney "on call" for legal questions. It is a staffing issue: Most of our lawyers are busy with their clients most of the time. Still, if you can be patient with us, leave us a message and we will return your telephone call and attempt to assist you.
Please remember that our lawyers are specialists. They have been chosen to be public defenders because they are very good at what they do. What they do is criminal law, the law of neglect and abuse, juvenile delinquency law and involuntary (probate) incarcerations. That means if you have a question about land/tenant matters or custody issues or civil lawsuits, we are probably not the folks for you. You might try:
Legal Aid of West Michigan
450 Morris Ave., Ste.104
Muskegon, MI 49440
You can also call private (for hire) attorneys. Many of them offer free consultations.