Question: What can I do if I'm dissatisfied with the legal representation I am receiving (or received) through a court-appointed public defender?
Answer: According to Jenny Hsu at Foster Pepper, PLLC, the majority of complaints regarding public defenders are resolved through communication and listening. There are generally three steps you can take: 1) talk to your lawyer; 2) write a letter or call your lawyer’s boss to state your complaint; and 3) raise the issue with the judge.
If you have a problem with your public defender, it is important that you communicate this to your lawyer as specifically and directly as possible. There may just be a misunderstanding, and once you talk to your lawyer, you may find your problem is solved. It may help to write down your questions and concerns before meeting with your lawyer.
If your concerns aren’t resolved after talking to your lawyer, talk to his or her boss: the supervisor of the office in which your lawyer practices. After that, contact Carole Furness at the King County Office of Public Defense, the agency that oversees public defenders. Ms. Furness is the Attorney Complaint Investigator for King County and assists clients who have problems communicating with their public defender.
If none of this works, you can always raise the issue with the judge you are in front of. Be specific as to why you think you need a new lawyer, but remember that judges often will not remove a lawyer unless there is a compelling reason to do so.
If the case is closed, you may have grounds for an appeal. Appeals have time limits and must be filed before those time limits expire. If you are incarcerated, you might look into habeas corpus proceedings or personal restraint petitions, even if the appeal time has run or if all your appeals have been exhausted.
Clients charged with felonies can only change public defenders upon a judge’s order. Additionally, it is a very expensive process, and most complaints can be solved through better communication.
It is important to realize that public defenders can only deal with what they are given. Public defenders negotiate with the prosecutor in order to try to secure a fair deal for their clients. Public defenders then communicate the prosecutor’s offer to their clients. When clients are dissatisfied with their public defender, it often stems from an “unfair deal”; however, even if you think you got an unfair deal, try to remember that the offer comes from the prosecutor, not your attorney. Also, remember that it is your constitutional right to decide to plead guilty or to go to trial. Your lawyer is there to advise you on the risks and benefits of a trial and to work for the best negotiated plea or favorable result at trial.
For more information: www.metrokc.gov/dchs/opd or call Ms. Furness at (206)296-7826.
Answers are intended for general information only and are not intended to take the place of the advice of your own attorney. Ask a Lawyer is in partnership with the Access to Justice Institute at Seattle University School of Law and Foster Pepper, PLLC. Got questions? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/02/07/feb-7-2007-entire-issue