Eileen Farley, director of the Northwest Defenders Division of the King County Department of Public Defense, has been selected to oversee indigent public defense for the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
The position of public defense supervisor was established by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik in December when he ruled that the two cities routinely violated the rights of poor defendants of misdemeanor crimes by failing to ensure they had adequate legal representation. Lasnik required the cities to hire a supervisor to ensure the defense systems complied with constitutional standards.
The widely watched class-action case began in 2010 with an investigation by attorneys Matt Zuchetto and Toby Marshall into the troubled indigent defense system shared by the two Skagit County municipalities. They were later joined by the ACLU and the Seattle law firm of Perkins Coie.
The lawsuit alleged the cities ran what amounted to a “meet and plead” justice system in which poor defendants often never met their court-appointed lawyers until minutes before they were to appear in court.
Lasnik found the system failed to meet the requirements of the Sixth Amendment.
During a two-week trial in 2012, evidence showed that two now-departed public defenders working on contract for the cities, Richard Sybrandy and Morgan Witt, carried yearly contract caseloads of more than 1,000 clients each while also maintaining private practices.
The Washington State Bar in 2012 adopted guidelines calling for maximum yearly misdemeanor caseloads of 400 clients.