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Where presented : 
NLADA Annual Conference
Recipient organization: 
Michigan State Appellate Defender Office
Recipient organization city: 
Recipient organization state: 
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

The Michigan State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) is led by Director James R. Neuhard. SADO is recognized for several landmark accomplishments related to the development and automation of a case weighting system that, under the control of the Appellate Defender Commission, automatically controls intake to the office. This development has allowed the office to meet and exceed the ABA’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System.

In the spring of 2008, in response to the closing of the Detroit Crime Lab due to rampant testing errors in firearms cases and certification errors, SADO recruited law students to review pending cases, contact clients and select a group of cases to send for retesting. As a result, negotiations with the chief prosecutor and her staff were opened and an agreement reached that assured that tens of thousands of cases would be reviewed and retested by the State Police Crime Lab with no questions asked. Don Martin, chair of the Appellate Defender Commission, in his nomination letter wrote that while the “effort to review and retest the cases would take years to complete, it has already resulted in a new trial for one client with the results supporting the client’s version of events.”

Additionally, SADO has been recognized as being at the forefront of automation for many years. The Criminal Defense Resource Center is one such example, whereby case summaries, briefs, sentencing manuals and a slew of other resources are captured in a comprehensive legal site under SADO’s Web site, allowing access to support for thousands of attorneys with limited resources. And, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Corrections, SADO uses the medical parole video link network of the Department. This allows for confidential high quality video visits to all the prisons in the state, some as far as a day’s drive away in the Western reaches of the Upper Peninsula. In addition, translators, researcher experts and investigators can use this service that otherwise would be costly or impractical.

Marilyn Kelly, chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, writes of SADO: “[But] it is not just the ‘big’ cases that distinguish their office. SADO attorneys are committed to ensuring that all their clients receive the best SADO has to offer. Their plea and sentencing unit has achieved a remarkable level of success in handling mostly sentencing appeals, so much so that the aggregate savings they have achieved runs to millions of dollars each year.

“SADO has been equally committed to improving the criminal defense bar. Jim Neuhard of SADO was the primary drafter of the ABA’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System,” writes Dennis Archer, former mayor of Detroit and partner at Dickson Wright law firm. “He has fought to keep their office compliant with those principles. SADO has unselfishly and tirelessly sought increased fees for the private bar and has been deeply involved in the efforts to improve the entire system of criminal defense in Michigan… SADO has been at the heart of the reform effort.”

For their tireless dedication and outstanding achievements in the struggle to ensure justice for all, we honor Michigan State Appellate Defender Office.