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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

County loses appeal over acquitted man’s lost wages

Spokane County must pay about $10,000 in lost wages to an accused assailant eventually cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in a 2010 melee that left two men with stab wounds, and now must reimburse him for the cost of the appeal as well, the state Appeals Court ruled Thursday.

Although Tommy J. Villanueva, 53, was awarded the lost wages last year after a Spokane County Superior Court jury acquitted him of assault charges on self-defense grounds, prosecutors appealed on largely technical grounds that the appellate court rejected.

Washington state law calls for reimbursing certain crime suspects for the cost of their legal defense, including lost wages, if they are acquitted on self-defense claims. Judge Linda Tompkins awarded Villanueva nearly $49,000.

Villanueva stabbed two drunken men at a party in 2010 after being threatened by them following a misunderstanding over claims that he was a wife beater, documents show. He was arrested and booked into jail, then fired from his job at Kim Hotstart Manufacturing in Spokane Valley when he failed to show up for work the next day. Formal charges weren’t filed against Villanueva until several days later, however.

Prosecutors argued that because Villanueva was fired before the first-degree assault charges were formally filed against him, the $10,000 he was seeking in lost wages shouldn’t be considered part of his legal defense costs under state law.

A three-member panel of the state Appeals Court dismissed the contention.

“The cost of a criminal defense often starts at arrest,” the ruling reads. “Thus, we construe the words ‘involved in his or her defense’ liberally because doing so is necessary to effectuate the statute’s purpose.”

The case now returns to Superior Court for hearings to determine how much additional money the county must pay for Villanueva’s continuing legal defense during the appeal.

Villanueva’s defense lawyer, Timothy Note, said his client sought only the difference between the amount he would have earned if he’d been able to keep his job and what he received in unemployment compensation while awaiting trial.