OTTAWA COUNTY — A new community defender has been appointed to guide Ottawa County’s community defender’s business.
Nichole Jongsma-Derks is the successor to retired Community Defender Robert Hamilton, who oversaw the development of the office and its initially a few years in existence. Prior to the public defender’s office environment, the county had a roster of personal follow lawyers who were assigned the situations of felony defendants who could not afford a lawyer.
“Our business was so lucky to the have the leadership of Bob Hamilton,” Jongsma-Derks explained.
“We started out out with a vision to provide great, elite legal products and services for individuals who are not able to find the money for attorneys. We want to go on that and transfer from this basis stage of the past few decades and really improve into anything that’s crafted to previous.”
Jongsma-Derks’ workplace is looking for to supply a “holistic defense product,” supporting clientele clear up not only their legal challenges but also the fundamental concerns that could have factored into their legal behavior.
The public defender said the purpose of a holistic model is to aid clientele “prevent potential make contact with with the criminal justice process.”
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The place of work started total functions in 2019. Its personnel of 18 lawyers now usually takes all indigent defense circumstances in the county and retains a roster of personal attorneys for cases in which the community defender’s office environment has a conflict of fascination. In addition to lawyers, the office environment employs a social worker, an investigator and six workplace workers.
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One of the social worker’s positions is to interview the consumer and present what is called mitigating information and facts — context about the defendant’s particular existence conditions — that might help influence a choose to give a lighter sentence or an alternative kind of sentencing, like a psychological well being or sobriety treatment method courtroom, to address the root cause of the conduct that obtained the defendant in legal problems.
“The social worker acts as an expert witness for the section. It’s serving to to understand the consumer as a entire, so that the lawyer can current that properly to the court docket,” Jongsma-Derks explained.
Community defenders also refer purchasers to charities in the local community that can support tackle their wants. That can look like discovering housing for customer so that he or she can be unveiled from jail on bond although awaiting the resolution of a criminal demand, for case in point.
“Our workplace really prides itself on client-centered advocacy,” Jongsma-Derks explained.
Jongsma-Derks, who life in Holland, has worked for the Ottawa County’s public defender’s business office because its founding in 2018. Jongsma-Derks was a to start with assistant community defender, managing money instances and other major felonies and administrative duties for the place of work.
Right before becoming a member of the county, she practiced felony defense law at Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith P.C. She was born in Zeeland and grew up in Jenison.