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Public defender updates

Commission agrees to submit comment

Mason County Chief Public Defender Peter Jones briefed commissioners June 17 on how preparations are going for presumed changes to his office.

The Washington Supreme Court is accepting comments on updated standards through October, Jones said.

It’s the first step in passing the standards and making them mandatory, according to Jones.

The new proposed rules have been alarming for Mason and other smaller counties that will have to dramatically increase their budgets for indigent defense.

Potentially updated Washington State Bar standards will drastically change attorney caseloads, which will affect how the county prosecutes and defends criminal cases.

The new rules say attorneys can only handle a certain number of cases a year, based on a “case credit” system for offenses.

Attorneys will be allotted a certain number of yearly credits according to a new time schedule that will be fully implemented by 2027.

By July 2025, attorneys are limited to 110 felony credits and 280 misdemeanor credits per year. Starting July 2026, numbers are reduced to 90 felony credits and 225 misdemeanor credits per year. Finally, in July 2027, the new limits will be 47 felony credits and 110 misdemeanor credits per year.

Jones recommended Mason County submit a comment.

“We’ve got a supreme court that’s committed to making some sort of change,” Jones said.

He has watched the courts rulemaking committee and said they have listened to comments saying the court has done too much too quickly.

“I think phrasing a letter along those lines” would be helpful, Jones said, perhaps asking for the case limits to stay at the 2025 level.

Commissioner Sharon Trask said she would “hesitate” to ask for a stay at 2025 requirements.

“There’s a lot of work we should do before we even say that,” Trask said.

Neatherlin, who has been meeting with the indigent defense work group that includes legislator representatives, superior and district court judges, Mason Health representatives, and a representative from the sheriff’s office, said he would like the rules to focus on “hours” instead of the credit system.

Commissioner Kevin Shutty said Jones was “on the right track” with submitting comments that the rules are happening too quickly.

“There’s no reason for us to pull any punches when it comes to submitting comments on this,” Shutty said.

Jones and commissioners agreed to submit a comment on behalf of the county and will work on a draft.

Commissioners also asked for a briefing from Jones about how the work group is coming along.

“The quick answer is not very far along,” Jones said.

“We’ve had a lot of responses about why people can’t do things. We haven’t had a lot of what they can do or what they are willing to do. That’s problematic…” Jones said.

He compared the task of getting all interests, including enforcement and prosecution, involved to “a bit of a cat herding exercise.”

“Mason County is usually ahead of the game,” Trask said.

“I’ve worked really hard to get us there,” Jones replied.

Author Bio

June Williams, Reporter

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald

 

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