Clallam County commissioners to consider $1.5 million contract for approval today

Deal is with Clallam Public Defender’s office

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners are expected to approve a $1.5 million contract with the Clallam Public Defender’s office today.

For many years, negotiations of the contract have been contentious and the process has been very public, but the county’s negotiator Tom Reyes and Harry Gasnick, director of Clallam Public Defender, told the Board of County Commissioners on Monday that the two-year contract provides some of the stability Gasnick has sought for years.

“This is a contract we have collectively struggled to determine how to adequately fund,” said Commissioner Mark Ozias. “We’ve been going with a series of one-year contracts and extensions, which is tough for everyone. Where we’ve arrived today is in my view a positive step.”

The contract is set for $1,504,984, which is $146,939 less than what the commissioners approved in their 2019 budget. It includes two 1 percent increases that compound Jan. 1, 2020, and July 1, 2020.

Gasnick told commissioners the series of 1-year contracts and extensions over the last several years has made it difficult for his office to recruit and retain staff to defend indigent defendants in court.

While the contract gives the county the option to withdraw from the contract by putting in six-months notice as early as September 2019, “it’s still a much more stable contract,” Gasnick said. “It offers a substantially increased level of stability which is necessary for office morale, for keeping employees as well as attracting employees.”

Last year the county explored options to save money in indigent defense, which involved issuing a request for proposals to see if any others would be willing to take over Clallam Public Defenders responsibility, which it had filled for 40 years. Clallam Public defender was the lone bidder.

Commissioners last year also considered going against a recommendation of a committee of experts by restructuring indigent defense. The idea was that a indigent defense coordinator would manage contracts with attorneys who volunteer to provide counsel for defendants in Clallam County District Court 1.

After much feedback from the legal community, the county nixed that idea and approved a $1.25 million contract with the Clallam Public Defender in January of this year.

In that contract was a clause that said if the yearly total of cases in District Court 1 is fewer than 1,500, then Clallam Public Defender would reimburse the county at $240 a case for up to 300 cases.

This year Clallam Public Defender faced a $72,000 penalty because of the lower number of cases in 2018.

That clause was removed from the contract being considered today and Reyes said the county fully expects there to be an increase in cases in 2019.

The new contract also seeks to create parity between the Clallam Public Defender’s office and the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

While Reyes said the contract achieves parity, Gasnick said it is “a lot closer to parity.”

“There’s are an awful lot of variables for what constitutes parity,” Gasnick said.

He said one area that is difficult is paying for employees’ benefits. He said that while the county can issue insurance through the state or through Teamsters, Clallam Public Defender has less leverage to make deals as good as those.

He said Clallam Public Defender is looking at an 8 percent increase in benefits costs next year and faced a 15 percent increase this year.

This contract requires Clallam Public Defender to put more staff into Clallam County Superior Court. The last contract required 2.8 full time equivalency in Superior Court, but the agreement being considered today requires three FTEs.

Gasnick told commissioners his door is open if the county wishes to negotiate an extension of this contract.


Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at

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