Frequently Asked Que...

Frequently Asked Questions About the Standards

Frequently asked questions about the standards and how the rule is to be implemented:

  • WSBA Involvement: Why should the WSBA endorse these standards for adoption for CrR 3.1 et al? The WSBA first endorsed these standards in 1984, again in 1990, and then again in 2007. The composition of caseloads has become more complex not less since the WSBA first endorsed the standards more than 25 years ago. All of the standards are important in the provision of quality public defense services, but caseload standards are key in allowing public defenders the necessary time to provide effective representation.
  • Certification Process: How will the certification process work? The CPD has developed several models for the certification process for the court to consider. It is not clear if the court plans to allow local jurisdictions to handle the certification process differently and/or if it anticipates defenders certifying annually, quarterly or as a part of the notice of appearance.
  • Standard 3: Caseload numbers, definition of a case and case weighting. The CPD plans to develop language regarding the definition of a case and examples of case weighting to assist public defenders and local governments in following the caseload requirements. The CPD is sensitive to the fact that local practices vary (and also that they may change at any time with the election of a new prosecutor or judge).
  • What are some of the most common misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors that comprise district and municipal court dockets? Judicial Information Service (JIS) reports indicate that Driving Under the Influence (DUI), domestic violence and other assault cases make up about 1/3 of charges; Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree (DWLS 3) cases make up about 1/3 of charges; and the remaining charges include theft, shoplifting, prostitution, fish and wildlife, driving (e.g., reckless driving, negligent driving) and other misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases.
  • What studies or other empirical evidence exists regarding the effect of higher than proposed caseloads? The Office of Public Defense prepared this report comparing case outcomes in 5 jurisdictions where public defenders have higher-than-the-standards caseloads with outcomes throughout the state. Also, here are quotes from judges who participated in a 2010 Board of Judicial Administration survey. Last year’s Supreme Court decision in State v. A.N.J., 91 Wn.2d 91 (2010) provides a case study of the impact on a client of a lawyer accepting a caseload in excess of the recommended standards and failing to provide quality representation.
  • What are the foreseeable effects of the Supreme Court limiting the number of misdemeanor cases a lawyer can accept to 400 cases per year? Attached is a summary of the Office of Public Defense’s 2009 pilot program evaluation, comparing outcomes after public defense attorney caseloads were lowered to 400.
  • Do other states have caseload limits? If so, how do the limits set forth in the WSBA Standards for Indigent Defense Services compare with them? Here is a report prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Programs, entitled, “Keeping Defender Workloads Manageable.” Table 2 on pages 11 and 12 of the DoJ report entitled, “Maximum Public Defender Workload Standards in Selected States” provides information on caseload limits in other states.
  • Standard 5.2: Public defense attorneys shall have an office that accommodates confidential meetings with clients and receipt of mail, and adequate telephone services to ensure prompt response to client contact. “Public defense attorney,” as used in Standard 5.2, is intended to include all lawyers who are appointed to represent indigent persons.  The “office” referenced is intended to mean a place of business where the professional owning or renting that office can meeting privately with a client and be contacted by mail and by phone. Attorneys who have home offices and are not comfortable meeting clients in the home need to have access to a confidential meeting room in which to meet their clients (this does not include general courthouse meeting rooms).

Performance Guidelines

The performance guidelines are new and only advisory. They were developed to help defenders, contractors, and supervisors for evaluation and training purposes. The only reason they are a part of the BOG package is because they were just completed and, as they had been developed, the CPD decided to incorporate a reference to them in Standard 14 (that defenders should be familiar with them).

History of the Standards for Indigent Services

  • WDA developed the standards in 1984 and the WSBA endorsed them.
  • The BOG re-endorsed them in January 1990 (after passage of RCW 10.101.030 which references them).
  • The WSBA Council on Public Defense (which was then the Committee on Public Defense) as a part of its charge (and in response to amendments to RCW 10.101) updated the standards in 1997 and they were adopted/endorsed by the WSBA as the WSBA Standards for Indigent Defense Services.  (At that time the misdemeanor caseload limit was amended from 300 to 300-400 depending upon whether local practice had alternative programs for DWLS 3, etc.)
  • In 2010, in response to the WA Supreme Court’s request that the CPD recommend standards for implementation for the CrR 3.1 et al, the CPD reviewed the WSBA Standards in light of what was appropriate for certification by individual attorneys. The standards were amended to delineate aspects that applied to individual attorneys (as opposed to local government or contracting entities), to allow the caseload standards to be implemented in 2 steps, and also to make technical corrections. These are the amended standards now under consideration.
  • The CPD specified individual standards from the new amended standards to be proposed by the BOG for adoption as a part of the court rule.