Washington State: Crisis in Public Defense

Bump and Update: The second article in the series is out today, Attorney Profited, But his Clients Lost

Original Post 4/4/04

The Seattle Times is doing a series on the pitiful state of the public defense system in Washington. Today's article, For some, free counsel comes at high cost, is a must-read. How lawyer Guillermo Romero ever got to be a contract public defender is beyond us, but he did, and he's not the only one.

In a rape case, he once filed a motion seeking "D and A testing." What he meant was DNA. He gave lousy advice, according to disciplinary officials. You can't appeal, he told one client, when the client certainly could. You can leave the country before trial, he told another, when the client certainly could not. He allowed the state to take liberties. He didn't object when a prosecutor compared his client to Hitler. He didn't object when the same prosecutor argued that everyone who goes to rock concerts uses drugs. He didn't object when police transcribed the tape-recorded statement of a teenage murder suspect and inserted damning words the boy never uttered. Romero couldn't object, because he had never bothered to listen to his client's taped confession. ....Twice, reviewing courts ruled that he was so incompetent, the adversarial system had collapsed.

One of the problems with the Washington State system is that 2/3 of the counties use a contract system for indigent defense.

Warnings about such contracts have been sounded for three decades, but the state has refused to enforce public-defense standards or to help fund indigent defense at the trial level except in extraordinary cases.

There is so much more to this article, please read the whole thing.

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