Rep. Taylor’s bill to maximize Office of Public Defense staffing passes House

OLYMPIA—Staffing shortages and increased demand for services have made it difficult for the Office of Public Defense to provide adequate resources. House Bill 1911, sponsored by Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-30th LD) would make it easier for OPD to connect people with representation. The bill passed the House of Representatives today with a vote of 79 to 18. 

The current prohibition on direct client representation would not change, but the bill would allow OPD to facilitate placing clerks, externs, and interns with public defense attorneys for training. 

“We need creative and innovative solutions to address the workforce crisis in the public defense arena, said Rep. Taylor. “This bill provides consistent training opportunities for people just starting out in their law careers. Simultaneously it sets up a framework of support for current OPD and contract staff and the workload they are managing.” 

Rural communities are often the hardest hit by staffing shortages due to a lack of resources. Young attorneys and law students usually opt for more urban environments when starting out, but allowing OPD to assist with placement will help ensure offices in those communities receive staffing. 

The bill also allows OPD employees to provide pro bono legal services as long as they abide by professional conduct and OPD policies. Clients being represented by an employee providing pro bono services would be required to provide a signed, written statement releasing the State of Washington from liability. 

“OPD provides critical services for Washingtonians across the state,” Rep. Taylor said. “It’s time to update some of our policies to allow OPD employees to perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively, which is what this bill does.”