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Public Defender Gets More Money But Commissioners Only Offer $100,000 To Help Busy Office Finish Year Of Costly Cases

Spokane County commissioners agreed Thursday to give the public defender less than half the money he says he needs to finish the year.

Public Defender Don Westerman requested $265,000 and got $100,000. It was the second time this year he’s asked for money and been disappointed.

In June, Westerman asked for $400,000 and got $100,000.

Commissioners said Westerman undoubtedly will need more money and conceded they’ll have to give it to him. In fact, they agreed to see him again in mid-October.

But with the county’s savings account drying up, they said they’d rather spoon out the money - and hope Westerman finds savings - than grant his entire request at once. The county has less than $400,000 in reserve.

Westerman predicted his office will handle about 600 more cases this year than in 1995, and that the number of complicated cases, such as murder and other violent crimes, has increased dramatically.

He already owes $50,000 to private attorneys who take cases his office cannot handle. The aggravated murder trial of Joseph Andrews, scheduled to begin in October and last five weeks, could cost another $50,000, he said.

Cases must be given to private attorneys whenever there is a potential conflict of interest.

In the case of the Andrews trial, some witnesses were defended by Westerman’s office in the past.

Farming out those cases typically doubles the cost of handling them in-house.

Counties are required to provide attorneys for defendants who cannot afford their own.

In Spokane County, 90 percent of the people charged with felonies and 35 percent of those charged with misdemeanors qualify.

Citing statistics that show Westerman spends less per case than his counterparts in Pierce and Whatcom counties, Commissioner Phil Harris called Westerman “the most frugal public defender I’ve found.”

Harris and Commissioner Steve Hasson first said they wanted to give Westerman only $50,000 to pay immediate bills. Commissioner John Roskelley persuaded Harris to double the amount.

Westerman joked that he’d rather have root canal surgery than ask commissioners for money.

“But I couldn’t get one scheduled,” he said.

, DataTimes