Spokane County public defenders stopped assigning cases for the second straight month

click to enlarge Spokane County Courthouse. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak Photo
Spokane County Courthouse.

For the second time in two months, Spokane County Public Defender Tom Krzyminski has stopped assigning felony cases to attorneys in his office.

Again pointing to the swelling number of felony charges filed by prosecutors, Krzyminski says he's trying to prevent his lawyers from exceeding the number of cases they're legally allowed to handle in a 12-month period.

So far in July, 367 cases were sent to public defenders, compared to 288 cases in July 2017, according to numbers Krzyminski provided. The total number of felony cases in 2018 so far comes to 2,362 compared to 2,102 for the same timeframe last year.

"They're coming in like crazy," Krzyminski says. "I've left messages with three different prosecutors, and I'm not getting any calls back. I'm not getting an answer about what the cause could be and whether this is going to continue, but the number is certainly rising."

Spokane County prosecutors did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but have previously said that the increase in felony cases could be due to a steady increase in referrals from law enforcement.

From 2013 through 2017, charges referred to prosecutors from law enforcement increased by 413, according to numbers provided by Spokane County Prosecutor John Grasso. Statistics also show that from January through June of this year, prosecutors have filed 337 more felony cases than they did for the same period last year.

Krzyminski used the same tactic at the end of last month before county commissioners approved funds to hire two attorneys on a temporary basis. Krzyminski says he's hired one person already, but temporary positions are hard to fill.

For the rest of the month, indigent people charged with felony crimes will have a public defender next to them at their first court appearance, when a judge sets their bail. The next hearing, an arraignment, is usually set two weeks after that, by which time Krzyminski says defendants should have an assigned lawyer.

He says it's difficult to know what the full impact will be, other than the fact that client interviews and any potential investigation by the defense will be delayed by several days.

"Clients typically have questions early on that we like to be able to answer for them," he says.