This letter is written in response to “Citing bulging caseloads, public defenders’ chief delays handling of felonies” (Jonathan Glover, June 30, 2018).
People accused of a crime have a right to an attorney. Public defenders are supposed to defend those who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. These public defenders are appointed based on a financial screening process overseen by the Spokane County commissioners. The financial screening is based solely on self-disclosed financial information.
The Spokane County commissioners are not following the law regarding financial screening. According to a public records request in 2016 they did not verify the self-disclosed financial information of a single one of the thousands of applications. This lack of verification results in too many people qualifying for a public defender and contributes to their high caseloads.
In 2006 the Spokane County Public Defender’s Office represented 49 percent of misdemeanor cases. Ten years later that number has ballooned to 89 percent. Countless people, who can actually afford their own attorney, have been appointed public defenders at taxpayer expense.