CADILLAC — Bob Champion has been on the job at the Wexford-Missaukee Public Defenders Office for just a week, but he already has learned a few things.
The Freeland native and new chief public defender said the caseload in the two counties is busy even compared to the more metropolitan areas he worked at previously. Champion also said that regardless of a community being rural or metropolitan, substance abuse and mental health are universal issues. He also noted there doesn't appear to be as many "serious crimes" compared to his previous jobs, including most recently in Kalamazoo County.
Although he only started as the chief public defender last week, Champion said he does have some goals he would like to accomplish in his first year.
"I would like to add a social worker to our organization to assist us in getting the necessary treatment for our clients with mental health issues and to help them navigate the different agencies," he said.
He said the social worker could, not only help with mental health issues, but also with housing and employment opportunities. He said there are other public defender offices in the state that are looking at holistic approaches to dealing with client issues. He said the purpose is to stop the recidivism that seems to plague many public defender clients.
"I know the (Michigan Indigent Defense Commission) is interested in those things," he said.
During his law career, Champion has served as an assistant prosecutor in Kalamazoo and Allegan counties. He also was in private practice for 14 years until the formation of the public defender offices across the state. It was at that time he took a job with the Kalamazoo County Public Defenders Office in June 2019.
He is married with three children, including two adult children and one still in high school. He and his wife had planned to move up north and own property in the Buckley area. When the chief public defender position because available, he and his family decided Champion should pursue the opportunity.
Last October, Johanna Carey officially made it known she would be stepping down from the position and returning to the Wexford County Prosecutor's Office to become its chief assistant prosecutor. Carey's last day as the chief public defender was Nov. 13.
In October 2017, the Wexford County Board of Commissioners established the Indigent Defender Office within the county, which is a partnership with Missaukee County. Every trial court funding unit in Michigan was required to submit a plan for compliance with the first four standards, along with a cost analysis, to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission no later than November 2017.
Those first four standards cover training and education of counsel, the initial client interview, the use of investigation and experts, and counsel at first appearance and other critical stages. The Indigent Defense Commission was created as a result of efforts to improve legal representation for low-income criminal defendants.
The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission has already proposed a second set of four standards. Those new standards, however, will not be implemented until 2021.