Public defenders can only handle 150 felony cases a year under a new rule issued today by the Washington State Supreme Court. Such defense attorneys of those who cannot afford counsel will only be able to take on 300 misdemeanors per year as well, the court decided on an overall 6-3 vote.
The impetus for establishing the first-ever limits is to ensure criminal defendants receive an attentive lawyer not overburdened by other cases. That said, could the decision actually cause a spike in costs to the county and state governments?
Bill Houser says no, at least as far as Kitsap County is concerned.
Houser said Kitsap County’s Office of Public Defense has abided by a standard similar to the one just mandated by the court since the office’s inception. Attorneys have always been held to 150 felonies or less, he said, and if it’s a murder or “three strikes” case, their caseload must decrease even further.
Houser did say that some attorneys handling simple misdemeanors in the county do eclipse 300 at times.
Bear in mind, private attorneys can keep the caseloads they please, as their paychecks come from the clients they serve.
The standards will take effect in September 2013.