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Published on Friday, December 19, 2014

Misdemeanor Public Defense Cost workgroup wraps up, presents findings and recommendations to House Judiciary committee

The Misdemeanor Public Defense Cost workgroup, who met throughout 2014, wrapped up its work in early December and presented findings and recommendations to the House Judiciary committee. The workgroup was convened by the Judiciary committee in response to cities’ efforts to seek additional funding for public defense costs related to new caseload limits that take effect January 2015. The committee charged the workgroup with the following:

  1. Examine and inventory the cost of misdemeanor public defense.
  2. Inventory revenue generated by courts of limited jurisdiction.
  3. Address potential impacts and additional costs associated with implementing mandatory caseload limits.
  4. Address best practices for alternative case resolution that may mitigate costs.
  5. To the extent practicable, provide individual analysis for each misdemeanor court asked the workgroup to look at the cost of providing misdemeanor public defense in Washington State.

The workgroup’s process included surveying city and county administrators and private attorneys and firms that contract public defense services. The workgroup also used existing data, specifically data acquired by the Office of Public Defense through RCW 10.101 applications and the Local Government Fiscal Reporting System, to inform its efforts.

For the presentation AWC’s Candice Bock joined fellow workgroup members, Brian Enslow of the Washington State Association of Counties, and Sophia Byrd McSherry of the Washington State Office of Public Defense. In their presentation they provided the committee with a summary of the workgroup’s process and outlined its findings and recommendations. Findings include:

  • Many cities and counties were unable to forecast fiscal impact at the time of the survey.
  • Expenditure data from 2013 is not likely reflective of additional costs to be incurred in 2015 as a result of caseload limits and Wilbur.
  • Washington lacks a comprehensive data collection mechanism for tracking public defense appointments and expenses.
  • State contributions through RCW 10.101.050 fund 4.4% of county and 2.1% of city public defense expenses.
  • Some alternative case resolution mechanisms provide varying levels of cost savings.
  • Caseload limits and emerging litigation have prompted local governments to increase public defense funding, but more is likely needed.
  • Most jurisdictions contract with private attorneys for public defense services. Compensation should include non-salary business expenses.

Recommendations include:

  • Public Defense appointments should be tracked uniformly by the courts’ case management system.
  • Public Defense costs should be tracked uniformly using BARS codes in the Local Government Financial Reporting System.
  • Best practices for alternative case resolutions that may mitigate public defense costs should be further studied.
  • The effects of caseload limits should continue to be monitored.
  • The State should increase its funding level of city and county public defense services.

For the full report click here.

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