A federal judge found that the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington in Washington State have routinely violated the rights of poor defendants accused of misdemeanors by failing to ensure they have adequate legal representation, the Seattle Times reports. U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik issued an injunction yesterday ordering the cities to hire an independent supervisor to monitor the city's public-defense operations, saying he has “grave doubts regarding the cities' ability and political will to make the necessary changes on their own.”
At the same time, Lasnik stopped short of imposing unprecedented federal-court oversight of a state's public-defender system, which had been requested by the Department of Justice. The federal court will retain jurisdiction over the case for the next three years and will intervene at the request of either the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which filed a lawsuit two years ago, or the cities. Lasnik said Mountain Law, the firm that has taken over indigent defense for the two cities, is “trending in the right direction,” but that its efforts remain inadequate. The ACLU alleged that misdemeanor defendants were subject to what amounted to a “meet and plead” justice system that comes nowhere near meeting the requirements of the Sixth Amendment.