Berrien County hires Michigan man to lead indigent defense

ST. JOSEPH — The Berrien County Board of Commissions voted unanimously Thursday to hire Carl Macpherson as the county’s Indigent Defense Administrator, a new position created to provide oversight and direction to attorneys hired to defend those who can’t afford the cost of hiring a lawyer.

Macpherson

Macpherson

A Michigan native and University of Michigan alum, Macpherson has 18 years of experience in criminal defense, the majority of which has been with public defender offices. He currently lives in Libertyville, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago.

“I have dedicated my adult life to being a civil servant and to work for indigent defense for my clients,” he said. “This opportunity gave me a chance to be in the state of Michigan for work… It is exciting to be able to come in and have a job that is going to be able to help people.”

The position is part time, but County Administrator Bill Wolf said it could develop into something more extensive in the future.

“I don’t know where it is going to be a year or two or three years from now,” he said.

Berrien County does not have a public defender office. Instead, it contracts with private attorneys to provide indigent defense for citizens. The county currently has three contracts for adult indigent defense.

Wolf said one of Macpherson’s main roles initially would be to look at those contracts and compare them to upcoming standards that will be coming down from the state.

He said the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission has a set of four standards currently being considered by the Supreme Court.

“We expect those to be approved by July 1,” Wolf said.

If that happens, Wolf said the county would have six months to present a plan to achieve those four standards if the county is not achieving them already.

“With the addition of Carl Macpherson we will begin to examine where we are in comparison to the standards,” Wolf said. “With that information, we can begin the implementation and planning of what we need to do to improve.

“We are not taking a position that we are providing terrible service now or excellent service now — we simply do not know where we are on that spectrum.”

Macpherson will be paid at a rate of $42 an hour.

Also Thursday, the commissioners approved by 11-1 vote a $2,000 raise for members of the Berrien County Road Commission effective retroactively to Jan. 1, 2016.

The road commission chairman will now make $5,500 annually, while the other commissioners will make $5,000 annually. The road commission’s last salary adjustment was in 1993.

Commissioner Jeanette Leahey said she voted “no” because she did not agree with the raise being applied retroactively.

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