Thursday, April 28, 2005

New Law Revamps Indigent Defense in State

[LEGISLATION] A new law sets up a new system for funding city and county indigent defense and adds standards for those services. Laws of 2005, ch. 157 (SSHB 1542). Section 3 provides:

In order to receive funds, each applying county or city must require that attorneys providing public defense services attend training approved by the office of public defense at least once per calendar year. Each applying county or city shall report the expenditure for all public defense services in the previous calendar year, as well as case statistics for that year, including per attorney caseloads, and shall provide a copy of each current public defense contract to the office of public defense with its application. Each individual or organization that contracts to perform public defense services for a county or city shall report to the county or city hours billed for nonpublic defense legal services in the previous calendar year, including number and types of private cases.

Section 4 requires cities and counties to document that they are
meeting the standards for provision of indigent defense services as endorsed by the Washington state bar association or that the funds received under this chapter have been used to make appreciable demonstrable improvements in the delivery of public defense services, including the following:
(i) Adoption by ordinance of a legal representation plan that addresses the factors in RCW 10.101.030. [Those factors are: Compensation of counsel, duties and responsibilities of counsel, case load limits and types of cases, responsibility for expert witness fees and other costs associated with representation, administrative expenses, support services, reports of attorney activity and vouchers, training, supervision, monitoring and evaluation of attorneys, substitution of attorneys or assignment of contracts, limitations on private practice of contract attorneys,
qualifications of attorneys, disposition of client complaints, cause for termination of contract or removal of attorney, and nondiscrimination.]
(ii) Requiring attorneys who provide public defense services to attend training under section 3 of this act;
(iii) Requiring attorneys who handle the most serious cases to meet specified qualifications as set forth in the Washington state bar association endorsed standards for public defense services or participate in at least one case consultation per case with office of public defense resource attorneys who are so qualified. The most serious cases include all cases of murder in the first or second degree, persistent offender cases, and class A felonies. * * *;
(iv) Requiring contracts to address the subject of compensation for extraordinary cases;
(v) Identifying funding specifically for the purpose of paying experts * * * ;
(vi) Identifying funding specifically for the purpose of paying investigators * * * .
(b) The cost of providing counsel in cases where there is a conflict of interest shall not be borne by the attorney or agency who has the conflict.
The Governor signed the law on April 22; its effective date is July 24.

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