County mulls public defense

first_imgClark County is considering significantly reorganizing how it carries out one of its constitutionally mandated functions.Deputy County Manager Bob Stevens has proposed a measure that would create a new office in Clark County with two full-time attorneys to represent individuals accused of felonies who have been deemed too poor to afford private legal representation.Under the state and federal constitutions, indigent defendants facing misdemeanor or felony charges are guaranteed an attorney at public expense. In Washington, most counties contract out services to private attorneys, but more counties are becoming increasingly involved in directly administering public defense.Stevens’ proposal would put Clark County alongside 12 other counties in Washington that have offices of public defense. But the reorganization requires approval from the county council, which has twice delayed voting on the reorganization so councilors could question its potential costs and impacts.The county currently has 57 contracts with 46 private law firms and attorneys to provide indigent defense. However, Stevens said that seven public defense attorneys who contracted with the county have recently retired. He said the county had the lowest-ever number of firms apply last year for contracts, partially because pay hasn’t increased in 10 years. The result, he said, is the county is projecting that 300 indigent defense cases this year that won’t be covered by currently contracted law firms.“It’s difficult to put yourself at the mercy of the market all the time,” Stevens said. He added that providing county public defenders can make up for shortages of contract attorneys and the reorganization won’t affect the budget.last_img

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