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Council adopts Dembowski amendment on interim structure for King County’s Public Defense System


Providing ability to assign cases to outside counsel, establishing taskforce to preserve innovative thinking, promote efficiencies


The Metropolitan King County Council approved an interim structure for the delivery of public defense services in King County, which included an amendment from Councilmember Rod Dembowski.

“This ordinance is an important first step forward in restructuring our public defense system in King County,” said Dembowski. “I believe this amendment helps to preserve independence and the ability to advocate for important reforms while promoting system efficiencies and improvements.”

The Dembowski amendment, adopted by the Council at its May 20 meeting, has two functions. It gives the Department of Public Defense the ability to use contract services for a portion of the public defense work handled by King County. The amendment also establishes the Criminal Justice Reform Advisory Task Force -- a task force of experts -- to issue an advisory report on County options for preserving criminal justice reform efforts and innovative ideas and approaches to public defense issues. The objective is to ensure that the new public defense structure proposed later this year will preserve King County’s nationally-recognized reputation for public defense services.

“Councilmember Dembowski’s amendment will allow community and bar leaders to participate meaningfully in the discussion of what public defense will look like from this point forward,” said Lisa Daugaard, Deputy Director of The Defender Association. “We appreciate him creating a forum in which that expertise can be brought to bear; the outcome will be better because of it.”

This interim structure for the delivery of public defense services is the first step in restructuring King County’s system following a state Supreme Court ruling that held that public defense employees are entitled to participate in the State retirement system and a subsequent settlement requiring that they become County employees on July 1.

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