Category Archives: Washington

Big changes coming to Seattle indigent defense

Public defenders in King County, WA, are in for some changes this fall when county officials will put a new indigent defense system before voters. From Real Change News:

More than 200 public defense attorneys handle about 25,000 cases in King County each year, serving anyone who does not have enough money to pay for an attorney.

Four independent nonprofits that contract with King County employ these public defense attorneys.

In November, voters will decide whether the attorneys should instead work for a single public defender selected by the King County Executive from a pool of candidates nominated by a public defense advisory board. The defender would work for a four-year term and answer to the executive.

The system had to change one way or another. A 2011 court decision and subsequent settlement found that King County owes retirement benefits to current and past employees. The public defenders had been doing county-funded public defense work without receiving the same benefits as other county employees because they worked for independent nonprofits.

The settlement in the case established that the public defenders are employees of King County.

Read the full story for a few more details on the proposed changes to a system which the story alleges “is known throughout the nation for being unique.”

WA: King County considers how to take public defenders in-house

From Real Change News:

For decades, four nonprofit agencies have handled King County’s public defense cases. Sometime in the next year, King County will begin supervising the agencies.

A 2011 court decision found that King County owes retirement benefits to current and past public defenders who worked for the four nonprofits. The ruling means the defenders are all county employees and can no longer operate independent of the county, county officials say.

In response to the ruling, County Executive Dow Constantine proposed putting all the public defense agencies under his supervision. Representatives from the four agencies say they want to stay independent so they can represent clients without bureaucratic oversight and can lobby the county for adequate funding.

Read the entire story.

‘Chasing Gideon’: shocking failures of the justice system in defending the poor

From the Seattle Times, a review of Karen Houppert’s book:

In the abstract, “everybody knows” that low-income individuals charged with committing serious crimes rarely receive good representation because court-appointed lawyers (usually public defenders) are inexperienced, underpaid and overworked.

When the abstraction becomes reality involving flesh-and-blood male and female defendants with lots to lose, the shortcomings of the criminal justice system become shockingly clear.  Journalist Karen Houppert, in her investigative book “Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice,” replaces the abstraction with two true-crime sagas set in Washington State — Spokane County and Grant County, to be precise.