SEATTLE — A lawyer is asking a federal judge to find that the public defense systems in two Skagit County cities are inadequate, saying “a warm body with a law degree doesn’t cut it” when it comes to providing legal representation to poor defendants.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington sued Burlington and Mount Vernon two years ago, alleging a litany of shortcomings that systematically violated poor defendants’ constitutional rights to effective lawyering. From April 2005 to 2012, the organization noted, those services were provided by just two part-time lawyers, Witt and Richard Sybrandy, who combined handled more than 2,000 cases a year.
The cities say they’ve overhauled their systems to make them a model of public defense. But attorney Toby Marshall, who represents the plaintiffs, told U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in closing arguments Tuesday that the lawyers who represent poor defendants in Burlington and Mount Vernon remain vastly overworked, and that means the defendants aren’t getting the legal help they’re entitled to.