Judge: Two Wash. Towns Failed Poor Defendants' Rights

Dec 4, 2013

A federal judge has ruled that two Washington cities have systematically violated the rights of poor defendants to have legal representation.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued Mount Vernon and Burlington two years ago, alleging that public defenders there were so overworked that they amounted to little more than "a warm body with a law degree."

Following a two-week trial last June, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik agreed in a ruling Wednesday. He blamed city officials for cutting corners in paying for and monitoring public defenders, and for remaining "willfully blind" to the problems that resulted.

Lasnik also ordered the cities to re-evaluate the way hire a part-time public defense supervisor to oversee whether poor defendants are receiving adequate legal counsel.