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When it comes to qualifying for a court-appointed lawyer, it doesn’t necessarily matter to whom you’re married. That’s what Monica Conyers, wife of Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., demonstrated this week when a federal judge declared her indigent and assigned her a tax-funded public defender to appeal a three-year prison sentence for bribery conspiracy. Monica Conyers, a former Detroit City Council member, pleaded guilty this past June to accepting cash bribes in exchange for her vote on a $1.2 billion sewage sludge contract with a Houston company. Now she wants to undo that deal, but says she can’t afford a lawyer to do so, despite the fact that her husband — who is the second-longest serving current member of the U.S. House of Representatives — makes $174,000 a year. The court says the congressman’s salary is irrelevant in this matter. According to a statement Tuesday from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, “The guidelines for the administration of the criminal justice act explicitly state that the initial determination of eligibility should be made without regard to the financial ability of a person’s family…unless the family indicates willingness and financial ability to retain counsel promptly.” The court said that Monica Conyers provided information that established her inability to pay for a lawyer, including “a detailed description of her financial resources in the presentence investigation report and [the information] that Mrs. Conyers was on her own — so to speak — as to such resources.” Therefore, the court said, “Further inquiry was not appropriate and would have intruded on private matters.” The court also noted, “There is nothing exceptional about these circumstances of this appointment.” Conyers’ court-appointed attorney, Douglas Mullkoff of Ann Arbor, Mich.’s Kessler, Mullkoff & Hooberman, did not return calls seeking comment. Her former attorney, Detroit solo practitioner Steven Fishman, who represented her in the criminal matter, was unavailable for comment. He withdrew from the case after the sentencing. To University of Michigan Law School professor Richard Friedman, the court’s reasoning made sense. Friedman said it didn’t “strike me as particularly strange that the individual would be able to claim indigency without respect to her spouse’s finances because they might just maintain separate finances.” If Monica Conyers is broke, Friedman concluded, she’s entitled to a lawyer. “If the court were to say, ‘Well, your husband’s wealthy,’ and she says she has no money…and if he does decline to support the [legal] representation, where is she left?” Friedman asked. As for John Conyers’ financial support of his wife, his office has issued no statement on the matter. He did not attend her sentencing last week and has remained quiet during much of the scandal. Monica Conyers remains free on bond. She is scheduled to report to prison on July 1.

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