As a client of Benton County OPD, you have the absolute right to quality legal representation. Among other things, this means the right to:
- Understand the charges against you and the evidence the prosecution has gathered
- Communicate with your public defender about your case before court appearances
- Receive details of plea offers from the prosecution and advice on the risks and benefits from accepting or declining such offers
- Decide whether or not to accept plea offers and whether or not to go to trial
If you have a problem with your public defender, here's what you need to know about resolving it.
Before Filing a Complaint
Filing a complaint against your public defender is a serious step and should be considered a last resort. Among other things, it can seriously degrade the working relationship you have with someone (sometimes the only person) who is 100% on your side!
Here are some steps you may consider taking before filing a complaint.
- Communicate. It is remarkable how many problems can be resolved with just a bit of communication. Giving your public defender the opportunity to meet with you and explain things to you can usually solve most problems. As you try to arrange for communication, please remember that public defenders carry significant caseloads and can sometimes spend most, if not all, of their days in court. A little patience on your part can go a long way. If you can, in addition to calling your public defender, you might want to also try sending them email. Often public defenders find themselves in situations where they can respond to emails but not make calls (like when they are in court). Here is a directory of public defender phone numbers and email addresses.
- We can help with communication. Sometimes for reasons you may not know about (like a week-long trial, vacation or personal issues) a public defender is hard for you to reach. Even when you can't reach them, we always can. Let us know you are having a hard time reaching your public defender and we can contact them and make sure they get back to you. The best way to contact us is by email at OPD@co.benton.wa.us. Or you can call us at (509) 222-3700.
- Tell your public defender you are frustrated. It's hard for people to correct a problem they don't know about. Your public defender is no different. Unless you let them know (in writing if necessary) that you have a problem with something they are doing, they won't have the chance to fix the problem.
Filing a Complaint
Complaints may only be filed by clients. We do not accept them from anyone else.
We understand that sometimes you feel you have no choice but to file a complaint. If you feel that is what you need to do, here's how to do it.
Send us your complaint in writing.
To be actionable, any formal complaint you have against your public defender must be provided to us in writing. You may send it to us by email at OPD@co.benton.wa.us, fax it to us at (509) 222-3717, or send it to us by mail at:
Benton County OPD
7122 W Okanogan Pl, Bldg A
Kennewick, WA 99336
We will investigate your complaint
We will take the necessary steps to investigate your complaint. This may include reviewing court notes, speaking with judges or contacting you for further information. One thing that will always happen is your written complaint will be shared with your public defender and he/she will be required to provide a written response.
We will make written findings
Once we have investigated your complaint, then we will provide you with a notice of our findings and a determination of the disposition of your complaint. You will also receive a copy of the written response provided by your public defender. The possible dispositions are:
- Unfounded - after our investigation, we have determined that either 1) the facts as presented do not constitute a valid complaint about the representation provided by your public defender; or 2) there is a dispute between you and your public defender as to the facts, and there is insufficient evidence supporting the facts in your complaint by which to take action against your public defender.
- Founded & Minor Concern Noted - your complaint is founded and sustained but is considered "minor." This usually means either that the substance of the complaint was not severe, the conduct complained about was not intentional, and/or the public defender has not been warned about this conduct before (and is less experienced than other public defenders in this regard). While you will not be advised of the action we have taken against your public defender, under these circumstances usually a counseling or letter of concern will be placed in their file depending on whether he/she is a Staff Defender or a contract defender.
- Founded & Serious Concern Noted - your complaint was founded and sustained and is considered "serious." This may be because it involves intentional and obviously inappropriate conduct, obvious malpractice, or conduct bringing the public defender's honesty into question. While you will not be advised of the action we have taken against your public defender, under these circumstances significant disciplinary steps will likely be taken, often in conjunction with the Court, the specifics of which depend on whether he/she is a Staff Defender or contract defender.
If You Want a New Public Defender
Often people who file complaints against their public defender do so in the hopes of getting a new public defender assigned to their case. Unfortunately we are unable to do that.
The only entity with the authority to assign you a new public defender is the court that appointed you the public defender in the first place. Whether it is District Court or Superior Court, the only way to get yourself a new public defender is to go to your next court appearance and ask the Judge to do that. You may want to bring a written statement to read to the court or to present to the court detailing why you should be assigned a different public defender since the courts seldom agree to do so and your chances of success are very slim unless you can articulate some very good reasons a new public defender should be assigned.