The Appellate Defender Act, signed into law by Governor William G. Milliken in 1978, created the Appellate Defender Commission within the office of the State Court Administrator (MCL 780.711 et. seq). The Act directed the Commission to:

  • Develop a system of indigent appellate defense services, which shall include services provided by the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO), MCL 780.712(4);

  • Develop minimum standards to which all indigent criminal appellate defense services shall conform, MCL 780.712(5);

  • Compile and keep current a statewide roster of private attorneys willing to accept criminal appellate appointments, MCL 780.712(6); and

  • Provide continuing legal education for those private attorneys, MCL 780.712(7).

After a series of public hearings, the Commission determined that a mixed system of full-time defenders and assigned private attorneys would best serve the long-term interests of the entire system. It promulgated regulations governing the system for appointment of appellate counsel and minimum standards for indigent criminal appellate defense representation, which were initially approved by the Supreme Court in  Administrative Order 1981-7, 412 Mich lxv (1981). 

Under this scheme, the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System (MAACS) administers the assignment of all cases and the roster of private assigned appellate counsel. MAACS roster attorneys, who are paid by the counties, handle about 75% of the total appellate assignments. Staff attorneys from the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO), who are state-funded, handle about 25% of appellate assignments.

In 2014, MAACS and SADO were consolidated into a single organization under the management of the Appellate Defender and oversight of the Commission.

The Commission contains seven members appointed by the Governor. Six Commissioners are recommended for the Governor’s appointment: two by the Supreme Court, two by the State Bar, one by the Court of Appeals, and one by the Michigan Judges Association. The seventh member is a non-lawyer selected by the Governor.