Judge limits billable hours for Stenson’s co-defense

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Two of Darold Stenson’s three attorneys will bill Clallam County taxpayers for no more than 300 hours beginning next month, a Superior Court judge has ruled.

Stenson, 60, is a former death row inmate from Sequim who is charged with killing his wife and business partner in 1993.

The state Supreme Court dismissed his 1994 conviction last May and remanded the case to Clallam County Superior Court for a new trial.

Judge S. Brooke Taylor placed “reasonable limits” on Stenson’s three-lawyer defense team in a Tuesday ruling.

“Mr. [Roger] Hunko will remain lead counsel, and it will be his responsibility to assign work to his co-counsel, with the understanding that the county will not be obligated to compensate the two additional counsel for services after March 31, 2013, which exceed a total of 300 hours between the two additional assigned counsel,” Taylor wrote.

The limit will apply throughout the three-week trial, which is scheduled to begin July 8.

Hunko, a death penalty-certified lawyer from Port Orchard, was appointed Stenson’s lead attorney last July.

Seattle attorney Sherilyn Peterson, who represented Stenson in a 2008 challenge to the lethal injection method of execution, and Blake Kremer of University Place were appointed co-counsel in August.

The death penalty was still on the table when the three lawyers were appointed. They each receive $125 per hour plus expenses and travel costs.

Retired Superior Court Judge Ken Williams questioned whether Stenson needed all three lawyers after Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly announced in December that she would not seek the death penalty.

“I’ve given it a great deal of thought,” Taylor told Hunko and Kremer in a 40-minute status hearing Wednesday.

“I’m not interested in hearing more argument on the issue.”

Assigning the Clallam Public Defender was not an option because the same office defended Stenson in 1994.

Cost of attorneys

Superior Court Administrator Lindy Clevenger told the Peninsula Daily News last month that Stenson’s lawyers had collected a combined $156,730 in attorneys fees and charged $18,577 for expert services as of Feb. 15.

Taylor noted that he made his decision before Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict told the PDN and KONP radio last month that the triple-lawyer defense team was an unnecessary expense to county taxpayers.

“Those comments by the sheriff were not a factor in the analysis of this issue but will have to be considered in analyzing the pending motion for a change of venue,” Taylor concluded in his ruling.

Change of venue

Peterson filed a motion for a change of venue Jan. 22 and supplemental motions Feb. 6 and 22.

The first supplemental motion to move the trial to King County focused on a 2010 KOMO-TV interview with the widow of Frank Hoerner, one of Stenson’s alleged victims.

The second motion focused on Benedict’s comments to local media.

“It has been sort of a dynamic situation, and recent developments have caused the defense to supplement their initial memorandum with two supplemental memoranda,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he would allow Kelly to respond to the supplemental motions by the end of this week and issue a ruling early next week.

The judge set a May 17 filing deadline for pretrial motions and a May 31 deadline for responses.

Another status hearing was scheduled for June 12.

Stenson is being held without bail in the Clallam County jail.

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 06. 2013 5:33PM
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