Commissioners OK road work, plan for public defenders
September 8, 2022
Wahkiakum County commissioners on Tuesday approved a road closure on Eden Valley Road and addressed issues relating to operations of courts.
Eden Valley Road will have a short closure Sept. 20, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to replace a culvert.
"This is the first step to try to control flooding in the winter time," commented County Engineer Paul Lacy.
The work will take place at the South Creek crossing.
Commissioners and court officials brainstormed a response to a recent state supreme court rule that will prohibit superior, district and municipal courts from managing public defense services starting in 2023.
District Court Judge Heidi Heywood explained that because federal courts have placed increasing scrutiny on public defense systems across the state, many places haven't done a good job of meeting their Constitutional obligation to provide defense attorneys, expert witnesses and investigators to indigent criminal defendants.
Under the new rule, counties and cities must have a person charged with coordinating those services who isn't an officer or employee of a court.
Heywood said possible solutions include hiring a half-time coordinator, contracting with a coordinator from Cowlitz or Pacific counties, or assigning the duty to a county employee or elected official who is not a judge or judicial staff.
In discussion, the group agreed they'd prefer to maintain local control rather than contract.
County Clerk Kay Holland suggested the solution.
"If we have a plan in place by January 1, we can do it," she said. "I don't see a problem."
Heywood and Holland said they would work with the commission to plan the program and present it to the commission for approval.
Commissioners approved agreements that will bring funds to the county.
One increases the allocation from the state Office of Courts for reimbursing extraordinary costs arising from the county's role in handling resentencing, vacating prior convictions for simple drug possession, making refunds, and certifying refunds of legal financial obligations and collection costs under the Blake Decision.
The agreement includes an extraordinary reimbursement of $9,000; the agreement also doubles the maximum reimbursement from $45,000 to $90,000.
Commissioners also approved participation in a state $518 million law suit settlement against three opioid distributors regarding their alleged role in fueling the state's opioid epidemic.