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OPD is an independent judicial branch agency.  Its mission is to implement the constitutional and statutory guarantees to counsel for indigent persons in the State of Washington.  OPD is not a statewide public defender office.  It does not manage public defense services at the county or city level.  OPD also does not provide direct representation or give legal advice.


[RCW 2.70.005]exitingwebsite


You are “indigent” if you are unable to afford the cost of a lawyer.  The full definition of “indigent” is found in RCW 10.101.010(3).exitingwebsite


OPD administers public defense services primarily as follows:

    • By providing grants to counties and cities to improve their public defense programs
    • By contracting with attorneys to represent indigent parents in dependency and termination cases in Juvenile Court
    • By contracting with attorneys to represent indigent clients alleged or found to be sexually violent predators in Superior Court
    • By contracting with attorneys to represent indigent clients before the Court of Appeals and the Washington Supreme Court in all cases where there is a constitutional or statutory right to counsel at public expense; primarily criminal, juvenile dependency and termination, and sexually violent predator cases.


[RCW 2.70.020]exitingwebsite


Director Joanne Moore is in charge of OPD.  OPD also has an advisory committee, which approves OPD’s budget requests and advises the Director on policy issues.


[RCW 2.70.010exitingwebsite, RCW 2.70.030exitingwebsite]


OPD is prohibited by law from directly representing clients.


[RCW 2.70.020]exitingwebsite


Because OPD cannot directly represent clients, it cannot give legal advice or draft legal documents.


[RCW 2.70.020]exitingwebsite


If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you may ask the court in which your case is filed to appoint a public defense attorney to represent you. The court will decide whether you are “indigent,” i.e. unable to afford an attorney.  Some counties and cities have specific public defense coordinators or offices.  To apply for a public defender in other cities or counties, contact the courtexitingwebsite where the charges are filed.


OPD has no authority to appeal a trial court’s appointment decisions.  You yourself may file a Notice of Discretionary Review to appeal a Superior Court’s decision not to provide you with a public defender.


[RAP 15.2(h)]exitingwebsite


To file a complaint against your public defender in a District, Municipal, or Superior Court case, contact the local public defense agency or courtexitingwebsite where your charges are filed.  You may also file a grievance with the Washington State Bar Association Office of Disciplinary Counsel.exitingwebsite  You may file a complaint with OPD if you have a public defender in a dependency, termination, or sexually violent predator case in Juvenile Court or Superior Court.  OPD cannot accept complaints for other trial-level case types.



Free civil legal aid attorneys are generally not available in civil cases.  However, the Northwest Justice Project offers a service called CLEAR.  CLEAR is a centralized intake, advice, and referral service for low-income people seeking free help with civil legal problems.  For information and screening call 1-888-201-1014, or senior citizens may call 1-888-387-7111.  For more details, go to CLEAR Online.exitingwebsite


You may also contact Columbia Legal Services (CLS).  CLS is a legal services program that provides free civil legal help to low income people who live in Washington State.  CLS typically represents low income individuals and groups on legal issues that affect a large number of low income people, usually where there is no other legal aid organization available to assist.  For more information, visit the CLS website.exitingwebsite


If you are not indigent but are still unable to afford a full-price lawyer for a civil case, you may be eligible for reduced cost representation through the Washington State Bar Association’s Moderate Means Program.exitingwebsite


Court documents in case files are maintained by court administration in District and Municipal Courts, and by the County Clerk for Superior Courts.  The procedure for requesting access to or a copy of a court record varies from court to court.  For more information, please see the Access to Court Records Brochure on the Washington State Courts website.exitingwebsite


A dependency case is a court action filed by the Department of Social and Health Services alleging abuse or neglect of a child.


[RCW 13.34]exitingwebsite


A termination of parental rights case (a “termination case”) is a court action where the Department of Social and Health Services argues that a parent is unfit to take care of his or her child and that it is in the child’s best interests to end the parent-child relationship.


[RCW 13.34.132]exitingwebsite


The OPD Parents Representation Program provides state funded attorney representation and case support services to indigent parents, custodians, and legal guardians involved in dependency and termination cases.


[RCW 2.70.020(1)(c)]exitingwebsite


The program operates in 25 of Washington's 39 counties: Benton, Chelan, Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Ferry, Franklin, Grant, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Klickitat, Kitsap, Kittitas, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Pierce, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum and Yakima.  Starting July 1, 2014, the program will expand to include King, Whatcom, Whitman, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin counties.  For other counties, please contact the local Juvenile Court for questions about the appointment of counsel.


If you are indigent and reside in one of the covered counties, the Parents Representation Program will provide an attorney to represent you at state expense for your dependency and/or termination case.


[RCW 13.34.090(2)]exitingwebsite


OPD is prohibited by law from directly representing clients.  Instead, OPD contracts with attorneys in counties across the state to represent indigent clients.  These attorneys are part of their own firms or organizations and are not OPD employees.


[RCW 2.70.020]exitingwebsite


A contract attorney with the Parents Representation Program can represent you only if the State has filed a dependency case.  If you have signed a placement agreement and no dependency has been filed, the Parents Representation Program cannot represent you.


[RCW 2.70.020exitingwebsite, RCW 13.34.090exitingwebsite]


A third party custody, paternity, or divorce case is not considered a dependency case.  The same is true for parenting plan modifications.  Such cases are not eligible for representation from the Parents Representation Program.


[RCW 2.70.020exitingwebsite, RCW 13.34.090exitingwebsite]


The OPD Parents Representation Program staff can speak with you, and if you wish, you can file a written complaint


You have the right to appeal a misdemeanor conviction from Municipal or District Court.  This appeal (called a “RALJ appeal”) will take place in the Superior Court of the county where you were convicted.  Details about RALJ Appeals can be found in the Rules for Appeal of Decisions of Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.exitingwebsite


If you had an attorney in District or Municipal court, that attorney is responsible for filing your appeal to Superior Court.  If you did not have an attorney, or your attorney has withdrawn from representing you and refuses to file your appeal, you yourself must file a Notice of Appeal in the court where you were convicted within 30 days after the Judgment and Sentence.  This Notice of Appeal must be served on all other parties.  A Notice of Appeal form can be obtained from the court clerk.


[RALJ 2.4(c)exitingwebsite, 2.5(a)]exitingwebsite


If you are indigent, you have the right to a public defender for your appeal to Superior Court.  If the court finds you indigent, the court will issue an order requiring the appropriate entity to pay for expenses such as a public defender and the cost of a transcript of your trial.


[RCW 10.73.150exitingwebsite, RCW 10.101.020exitingwebsite]


If the Superior Court decides you are not eligible for appointed counsel, you yourself may file a Notice of Discretionary Review to appeal the denial of counsel.


[RAP 15.2(h)]exitingwebsite


Counties are responsible for appointing attorneys to handle RALJ appeals.  Contact your local county public defense agency (if any) or Superior Court.


In order to appeal to the Court of Appeals from a RALJ appeal, you yourself, or your attorney if one is representing you, must file a notice of discretionary review in Superior Court.  An attorney will be appointed for your Court of Appeals case only if the Court of Appeals decides to accept your case.  Many discretionary review cases are not accepted.


[RCW 10.73.150exitingwebsite, Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600 (1974)exitingwebsite]


OPD does not appoint attorneys for Court of Appeals cases, but rather provides the Court of Appeals with a list of OPD contractors to appoint.  The Court of Appeals decides when to appoint attorneys and selects the attorney to be appointed on a rotating basis.


[RAP 15.2(g)]exitingwebsite


Appointed attorneys at state expense are generally available only for criminal, child dependency, termination of parental rights, and civil commitment appeals.  Some other limited exceptions apply, but appointed attorneys are not available for most civil cases, such as family law (e.g. dissolution of marriage or child custody), housing, or public benefits cases.


[RCW 10.73.150]exitingwebsite


If you have a civil case where an appointed attorney at public expense is normally not available, please see RAP 15.2(c)exitingwebsite for procedures to request that the Supreme Court authorize representation at public expense for you.  Such requests are very rarely granted.


OPD does not maintain resources to assist clients in finding free legal services.  Please see and exitingwebsitefor help finding free legal assistance.  If you are not indigent but cannot afford a full-priced attorney, please contact the Washington State Bar Association’s Moderate Means Program.exitingwebsite


Your trial attorney must file a notice of appeal, along with a motion for order of indigency in Superior Court.  If the Superior Court grants the order of indigency, the Court of Appeals will appoint an attorney for you.  There is no need to contact OPD to get an attorney appointed.


[RAP 15.2(a)]exitingwebsite


OPD cannot determine in advance who will be appointed to handle an appeal.  When the Court of Appeals appoints an attorney, it will choose an attorney from a rotating list of OPD contractors.



OPD contracts with attorneys who specialize in appeals.  The Court of Appeals usually selects from these specialists.  OPD may occasionally recommend that trial counsel be appointed to handle an appeal, but only in exceptional circumstances.


OPD’s contract attorneys are not required to file petitions for Supreme Court review at the client’s request.  It is up to their professional judgment whether such a petition is warranted.  If your appellate attorney does not file a petition for Supreme Court review, you will need to hire a private attorney or file the petition yourself.  If the Supreme Court accepts review of a petition you file yourself, you may be appointed an attorney to handle the Supreme Court appeal.


[RCW 10.73.150exitingwebsite, Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600 (1974)exitingwebsite]


You can file a Personal Restraint Petition arguing that your continued restraint is unlawful.  Personal Restraint Petitions generally must be filed within one year of when your judgment and sentence became final (which occurs when the deadline to appeal has passed if you did not appeal, or when the appellate court issues its mandate if you did appeal).


[RAP 16.4exitingwebsite, RCW 10.73.090exitingwebsite]


Unless you are under a sentence of death, you are not entitled to an attorney for filing a Personal Restraint Petition.  However, if the Court of Appeals finds that your Personal Restraint Petition is not frivolous, it may appoint an attorney to handle further proceedings.


[RAP 16.15(h)exitingwebsite, RCW 10.73.150(3), (4)exitingwebsite]


Please contact OPD with complaints about appointed attorneys handling cases in the Court of Appeals or the Washington Supreme Court.  You must send a written complaint before OPD can pursue the complaint.


OPD will work with the client and the attorney to find an agreed solution to the complaint, or will ask the attorney to withdraw so another attorney can be appointed.  However, only the Washington State Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counselexitingwebsite can investigate and punish attorney misconduct. 


The Washington State Supreme Court Standards for Indigent Defense apply to any court appointed attorney representing indigent clients on adult and juvenile cases.  In addition, the WSBA Performance Guidelines for Criminal Defense Representationexitingwebsite provide a guide for ensuring professional conduct and performance in representing clients on criminal and/or juvenile offender matters.

All public defense attorneys appointed to represent indigent clients are required to file certification forms on a quarterly basis.  In these certification forms, you must swear to abide by the Washington State Supreme Court Standards for Indigent Defense.

The Rules require that you file your quarterly certification form in each court where you practice.  It is recommended to file them by January 1st, April 1st, July 1st and October 1st every year.

OPD helps fund the Washington Defender Association, which provides resources for attorneys including email listservs, a brief bank, frequent training, and consultation on criminal matters and related immigration issues.

Generally, OPD does not advise the Court of Appeals to appoint trial counsel.  Such representation can create conflicts of interest due to potential ineffective assistance of counsel claims.  Moreover, OPD has already contracted for appellate attorneys to handle a certain caseload, and hiring outside attorneys would cost the State additional funds.  However, OPD does on rare occasions advise the Court of Appeals to appoint trial counsel in special circumstances, such as where trial counsel has filed a successful motion for discretionary review or petition for Supreme Court review, or where earlier proceedings were especially convoluted and trial counsel has detailed knowledge that would benefit the appeal.

Generally, OPD cannot arrange for a specific appellate attorney to be appointed on appeal.  An exception may be made for special circumstances, however, such as when an OPD appellate contractor provided assistance during trial and is already familiar with the case.

For cases in Divisions II and III, OPD usually sends a courtesy e-mail notifying trial counsel of appellate counsel’s appointment, depending on staff availability. If no attorney has been appointed yet, OPD generally cannot answer questions about when appointment will occur. Please direct such questions to the Court of Appeals clerk’s office.

The appeal and discretionary review process is outlined on OPD's website.

OPD’s appellate program conducts Request for Proposal (RFP) contracting processes for new contractors on an as-needed basis.  There is no regularly scheduled application cycle.  If you are interested in being notified of the next RFP, please e-mail OPD and ask to be added to the appellate RFP notification e-mail list.

Yes.  OPD maintains an FAQ on the WA Supreme Court Standards for Indigent Defense which is updated periodically.  Please be sure to contact OPD with any questions about the Standards this FAQ does not address.

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