September 12, 2023

Pacifica Files Lawsuit on Behalf of WA Counties Seeking Equal Access to Justice for Indigent Defendants

Pacifica Law Group litigators filed suit against the State of Washington last week on behalf our clients, the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) and Lincoln, Pacific, and Yakima Counties. The lawsuit filed in Washington State Superior Court in Thurston County, alleges that the State is denying indigent criminal defendants their right to court-appointed counsel, a right which is guaranteed under both the U.S. and Washington State constitutions.

According to the complaint, Washington State’s system of delegating trial court indigent defense obligations to the counties “denies indigent defendants equal access to justice.” The lawsuit alleges the State has failed to provide counties with adequate and reliable funding for indigent defense. It also alleges that state limits on Washington counties’ authority to raise tax revenue leaves counties unable to raise funds to cover court-appointed criminal defense costs.

The lawsuit asks the Court to declare the State’s indigent defense system unconstitutional and require that the State provide counties consistent and stable funding for indigent defense.

According to the lawsuit, counties currently cover more than 96 percent of these costs. Lack of funds and other issues have led to inconsistent indigent defense services between counties, the suit alleges, perpetuating a system in which outcomes for indigent defendants may vary depending on where that person is charged.

The suit also details how factors such as population growth and indigent defense standards mandated by the Washington State Supreme Court have led to a significant increase for counties in indigent defense costs in the past decade, while state funding has remained virtually the same, resulting in a net decrease in state funding since 2012.

Pacifica Law Group senior litigator Paul Lawrence leads a litigation team working on the case, which includes partner Ian Rogers and associate Christopher Sanders.

Click here for a PDF of the complaint.