Municipal Courts

Review of the operations and policies of the Department of Assigned Counsel (DAC) in Pierce County, Washington, with a particular focus on indigency determinations, attorney appointments, investigations, training, and resources. Study team reports that many county officials lack a clear understanding of the organizational structure and function of the DAC. Empirical findings were made difficult by the absence of reliable statistical data, but the authors note that the majority of cases in Pierce County are handled by attorneys on the assigned counsel panel and that zealous pre-trial advocacy seems to be lacking in the county. Recommendations include, but are not limited to: determining procedures for establishing indigency, hiring more investigators and support staff, developing attorney training programs, and upgrading resources and facilities.

Author/Organization: National Legal Aid & Defender Association
Publication Date: 1981

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Gideon Alert: Washington State lawsuit exposes non-representation in municipal courts

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 1:19 PM

On June 10, 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of Skagit County, Washington, by the law firm of Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC and The Scott Law Group P.S., as reported in the June 20 Seattle Times.  The suit alleges that the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington have breached their constitutional duties to operate a public defense system that provides effective assistance of counsel to indigent persons charged with crimes in their municipal courts. The complaint alleges that the defendants failed to: a) impose caseloads restrictions on public defenders; b) “monitor and oversee the public defense system;” c) “provide adequate funds for public defense;” and, d) “provide representation at all critical stages of the prosecution;” among others.   The cities’ failures, the complaint contends, have resulted in a constructive denial of the right to counsel under Gideon v. Wainwright.  The lawsuit asks for injunctive and declaratory relief to prevent further violations and to protect the constitutional rights of all indigent persons charged with crimes in the municipal courts of Mount Vernon and Burlington. Or, as co-lead attorney Matthew Zuchetto states in the plaintiffs’ press release,“[a]t the end of the day, our clients are simply asking for one thing: to fix the system."

Amendment to 2009-2010 contract for public defender services, extending the terms for two years to expire in December 2012.  

Author/Organization: Municipalities of Mount Vernon and Burlington, Washington
Publication Date: 2011

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Flat fee contract for public defense services in the municipal courts of Mount Vernon and Burlington, in Skagit County, Washington, effective January 2009 to December 2010.

Author/Organization: Municipalities of Mount Vernon and Burlington, Washington
Publication Date: 2009

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Class action suit filed on behalf of defendants facing misdemeanor charges in the municipal courts of Mount Vernon and Burlington, in Skagit County, Washington.  The complaint alleges, among other things, that the contract defenders are routinely in violation of their performance obligations to their public clients, and thus the municipalities are liable for a constructive denial of the class's 6th Amendment right to counsel.

Author/Organization: Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC
Publication Date: 06/09/2011

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Gideon Alert: Ignoring the 6th Amendment in Broward County, Florida Municipal Courts

BY David Carroll on Friday, January 14, 2011 at 8:00 AM

It is an all too common occurrence for misdemeanor courts in the United States to pressure people charged with misdemeanors into waiving their right to counsel without adequately informing them of the consequences of doing so.  Courts defend such practices as an attempt to expedite the processing of cases and save money, but the Sixth Amendment does not allow this type of shortcut.  And, the consequences for unrepresented people can be severe, such as loss of public housing, deportation, inability to serve in the armed forces, ineligibility for student loans, and significant financial penalties.