Trials & Litigation

How to Meet New Caseload Limit for Wash. Public Defenders? Some Towns May File Fewer Cases

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Caseload limits for lawyers representing criminal defendants at public expense are not a new concept. But standards adopted earlier this month by the Washington Supreme Court at the recommendation of the Washington State Bar Association include a mechanism for enforcing them.

Those who defend the indigent will have to certify quarterly that they are in compliance with the new rules, which take effect in September 2013 and limit caseloads to a maximum of 150 felony matters or 300 to 400 misdemeanors, the Associated Press reports in a lengthy article.

Presently, some lawyers are handling as many as 1,000 misdemeanor cases annually, and officials in cash-strapped municipalities are wondering how they will find the funds to pay for additional public defenders. Options they are considering range from cutting other jobs or services and simply reducing the number of criminal charges filed.

Another concern is that cities and towns may cut costs by looking for the cheapest lawyers instead of hiring experienced public defenders.

“My partner and I have 50 years experience doing this type of work, and we frankly think we can handle a lot more cases than the standards indicate,” said attorney Tim Goss, whose small firm has public defender contracts with Algona, Burien, Newcastle and Tukwila. “I’m concerned it’s going to drive good attorneys out of public defense.”

A Washington Courts press release provides further details and links to a copy of the supreme court’s order (PDF).

The Kitsap Sun and KNDU/KNDO also have stories.

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