A potentially precedent-setting federal lawsuit accusing two cities of providing constitutionally inadequate public defense for people charged with misdemeanors was certified as a class action on Thursday.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges that two public defenders for the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington carry misdemeanor caseloads of more than 2,100 despite working only part-time on the cases. The state Bar Association recommends misdemeanor caseloads of no more than 400 for full-time lawyers.
U.S. District Court judge Robert Lasnik on Thursday denied requests by Mount Vernon and Burlington to dismiss the case and granted class certification. If successful, the lawsuit could require cities to boost public defense spending in misdemeanor cases.
“The judge is saying the whole system is being put on trial,” said Toby Marshall, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Trial is scheduled for October.
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