Seven months after being tasked to set up Macomb County’s new public defender office, longtime defense attorney Thomas Tomko is being tapped as the new public defender.
Tomko, who has been an attorney for more than 30 years, was named to the position Friday. The office will represent indigent people charged with a crime who cannot afford their own attorney.
Thomas Tomko, who was named Macomb County’s new public defender on Oct. 16, 2020. (Photo: Macomb County)
In March, the state’s third-largest county named Tomko as the administrator of its new Office of Public Defender. His job was to lead the formation of the office, which is in downtown Mount Clemens.
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The office is a county department that will provide direct legal counsel and representation to poor adults. Officials say it’s different from other local county indigent defense programs, which use contract agencies or a roster of attorneys to provide services.
“We are establishing roots here with deliberate steps toward creating a lasting, impactful and high-quality indigent defense county office,” Tomko said in a release, adding the county is “striving to meet and exceed state indigent representation standards ahead of schedule.”
Tomko said the team is coming together and will expand in the future.
Adrian Cranford, staff attorney at the Macomb County Office of Public Defender (Photo: Macomb County)
Two staff attorneys, Adrian Cranford and Elisha Oakes, will start providing services to poor defendants in the 42nd District Courts, which are county-funded, in late November.
Elisha Oakes, staff attorney at the Macomb County Office of Public Defender (Photo: Emma Burcusel)
County Executive Mark Hackel said Tomko has done “an outstanding job” getting the office up and running in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said Tomko established plans, hired staff and began collaborating with local courts.
“His incredible work will ensure defendants receive legal counsel and representation when they can’t afford it,” Hackel said.
The public defender’s office will have three divisions: administration, felony circuit court litigation and misdemeanor district court litigation.
The administrative functions started in June and will continue to be transferred from judicial aide during the next several weeks as additional staff join the office, officials said.
The felony circuit court litigation division will represent a percentage of defendants charged with felony crimes, many of which are capital offenses.
The misdemeanor district court litigation division will represent a percentage of defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes in the 42nd District Courts in Romeo and New Baltimore.
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Officials said there are no current plans for work in the other district courts in the county. Those courts are not funded by the county. They can continue to use separate operation of indigent defense systems or look for efficiencies by collaborating with the county’s public defender office.
Here’s a quick look at the three attorneys in the public defender’s office:
- Tomko, lifelong Michigan resident who grew up in Eastpointe. A 1981 and 1982 graduate of Central Michigan University with an undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree, and a 1987 graduate of the University of Detroit School of Law. His private law practice included representing indigent defendants in capital cases. He is married with an adult child and three step-children and is a practicing 5th-degree black belt in Isshin-Ryu Karate.
- Cranford, raised in North Little Rock, Ark. A graduate of the University of Arkansas and a 2002 graduate of the Thomas Cooley Law School. He practiced law in Connecticut, in part as a contract attorney for a criminal indigent defense system. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He has been in private practice the last eight years representing indigent defendants in criminal matters. He is the senior pastor at Higher Dimensions Center Church of God in Christ in Fraser and hopes to serve as a circuit court judge one day.
- Elisha Oakes, a lifelong Michigan resident. A 2010 graduate of the University of Virginia and a 2013 graduate of Thomas Cooley Law School. She and her husband raise three children. She has been in private practice for the last seven years, representing indigent people facing capital charges. She has a passion for helping people with legal matters and mental health issues, and wants to help juveniles as part of her goals in the public defender’s office.
The public defender’s office is listed under special revenue funds in the county’s proposed 2021 budget, which is being reviewed by the county Board of Commissioners.
Tomko would be paid a salary between $94,687 and $120,084, according to the proposed budget. That proposal calls for about 17 positions for the office, including four senior staff attorneys, two staff attorneys, a pretrial specialist and two clerical staff.
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The county charter includes a provision for a public defender office and officials have worked to create the office with guidance from the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission.
According to a 2016 report by the commission, the vast majority of court systems in the state rely on assigned counsel systems and/or contract defender systems to provide representation to those who are poor.
Five years ago, there were only six public defender offices operating within the state, according to the report.
Contact Christina Hall: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.
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