Anita Khandelwal has served as interim director of the King County Department of Public Defense since July, when her predecessor resigned. One of three finalists for the director's job, she was nominated to serve a four-year term by Executive Dow Constantine on Wednesday.
Three months after she took the helm as interim director of the King County Department of Public Defense (DPD), Anita Khandelwal was named Wednesday as Executive Dow Constantine’s pick to lead the 415-employee department.
Khandelwal’s appointment to the four-year term will need to be ratified by the Metropolitan King County Council, according to a news release from Constantine’s office.
She was one of three candidates recommended to the executive by the Public Defense Advisory Council and received a strong recommendation from a panel of employees who interviewed the finalists, the news release says.
Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who chairs the council’s committee of the whole, said in his own news release that he would schedule Khandelwal’s confirmation hearing as soon as possible, to ensure stability in the department.
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The DPD provided a copy of Khandelwal’s résumé, which shows she received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and history from Yale University in 1998, and graduated from Yale Law School in 2005. She clerked for federal judges in Pennsylvania and Texas, worked as a staff attorney for the federal defenders’ office in Western Washington, and had two stints working as an attorney with the The Defender Association, one of four formerly independent firms that now make up the DPD.
Khandelwal — who speaks Hindi, Urdu and some Spanish — previously served as the DPD’s policy director and deputy director of law and policy before being named interim director in July, according to her résumé.
Khandelwal, 42, replaced the DPD’s first director, Lorinda Youngcourt, who resigned June 29 after Constantine told her he would not appoint her to a second term because of negative feedback about her management style, The Seattle Times reported in the summer.
The King County Department of Public Defense provides legal help to people who are accused of a crime and cannot afford an attorney. The department emerged after the state Supreme Court ruled that employees of four independent public-defense contractors were allowed to enroll in the county’s Public Employees’ Retirement System.
In July 2013, the county hired the employees and voters later approved a measure to create a single Department of Public Defense within the executive branch. The department has a biennial budget of $148 million.
Hired in 2015, Youngcourt had been tasked with creating a unified agency from four formerly independent firms — The Defender Association, Society of Counsel Representing Accused Persons (SCRAP), Associated Counsel for the Accused, and Northwest Defenders.
An annual survey of county employees rated the DPD’s leadership poorly in vision, communications and other categories, and surveys from two employee unions found an overwhelming majority of respondents didn’t support Youngcourt’s reappointment as director, The Times reported.
Based on those concerns, Constantine hired an outside law firm to review Youngcourt’s leadership, and that assessment echoed critical feedback the executive had received about her. After Constantine notified Youngcourt he would not be reappointing her, Youngcourt resigned.
Information from Times archives is included in this story.