Mich. Judge Thumbs Nose at Poor People's Right to Counsel

A judge in Michigan, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis C. Kolenda, has decided to ignore the Supreme Court and deny poor people the right to appointed counsel for their appeals.

The ACLU has filed a class action against the Judge.

In a move reserved for extraordinary cases, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today filed a class action in the Michigan Court of Appeals to force a Michigan judge to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling granting poor people the right to attorneys on appeal.

“Thumbing your nose at the U.S. Supreme Court is almost unheard of in the judicial system,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “And, in this case, the judge seems to believe he is above the law, or at least above the Supreme Court.”

Last June in a landmark decision, Halbert v. Michigan, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1999 Michigan law that barred judges from appointing attorneys to help poor people who have pled guilty to appeal their sentences. The Court specifically ruled that forcing poor people to navigate the appellate process without a lawyer violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution.

Despite the Halbert case, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis C. Kolenda has denied appellate counsel to several poor people and stated that he has no obligation or intention of following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the future and characterized the ruling as “incorrect” and “illogical.”

Not only is Judge Kolenda disregarding the Supreme Court decision, he is violating direct orders of the Michigan Supreme Court:

The lawsuit also points out that both the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals have repeatedly held over the last half-century that statements by the highest court, meant to be a guide to future proceedings, is binding precedent. In addition, the Michigan Supreme Court has issued a series of orders in order to implement and follow the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Halbert, but Judge Kolenda has also chosen to defy the Michigan Supreme Court."

“The tragedy of this case is that while Judge Kolenda is defying the Supreme Court, dozens of individuals are being denied their constitutional right to counsel simply because they are poor,” said ACLU Cooperating Attorney David Moran who also argued Halbert for the ACLU. “As a result, sentencing errors are left uncorrected and the Michigan taxpayers are picking up the bill for inmates wrongfully serving time.”

The Complaint in Brown v. Kolenda is here (pdf); the Brief is here (pdf).

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    Re: Mich. Judge Thumbs Nose at Poor People's Right (none / 0) (#1)
    by scarshapedstar on Wed Jan 11, 2006 at 05:55:49 PM EST
    Damn activist judges, liberal to the very end.

    Well, that figures. I mean aren't they just supposed to come in and plea as charged and be sentenced at the judges discretion. Who needs all these indigenous indigents and such clogging up the courts docket. Christ, this is America! Justice means just us rich white folk!

    The class action is an interesting way to go after the case. This is a judge who seems to be just asking to be impeached or grieved and removed from office on those grounds (a la Roy Moore in Alabama). Maybe Michigan needs to consider South Dakota's proposal to strip judges of judicial immunity in extreme cases.

    Well, you know, the president believes he doesn't have to obey the law, so why should the judge? If we would just leave the country in the hands of such fine Christian gentlemen, things would run much more smothly & we would all be revieved of having to think for ourselves. Wouldn't that be nice? Wouldn't it make you feel safe?

    Re: Mich. Judge Thumbs Nose at Poor People's Right (none / 0) (#5)
    by Johnny on Fri Jan 13, 2006 at 08:50:18 AM EST
    Maybe Michigan needs to consider South Dakota's proposal to strip judges of judicial immunity in extreme cases.
    Maybe not... That proposal was a knee-jerk reaction by reactionary conservatives. Totally loaded. Not too mention that without going into some minute detail of what constitutes "extreme cases" you are left in the dark. Much like I do not agree with the bushies proposed cap on the worth of my life (medical malpractice crap), I do not want to see certain legal proceedings dubbed "extreme" and labeled with a certain, pre-set value. A courts job is to determine legality, and in the case of clearly written and/or explicitly implied law-they, in effect end up making the law.