Clallam Public Defender lone bidder for indigent legal defense

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County’s longstanding partnership with Clallam Public Defender will likely continue for several more years.

The nonprofit Clallam Public Defender, which has been providing legal defense to indigent criminal defendants in the county for 40 years, was the only contractor to submit a bid proposal to county commissioners Tuesday.

The board referred the five-year proposal to County Administrator Jim Jones for a review and recommendation back to the board.

Clallam County has signed a series of one-year contract extensions with Clallam Public Defender in recent years, often late in the budget cycle.

To avoid continued uncertainty, commissioners last year assembled an hoc advisory committee to make a recommendation for the long-term provision of public defense.

The committee determined that a proposed split system where one firm handles District Court cases and another form works in Superior Court would result in a duplication of services.

It also recommended that the county take steps to achieve salary parity between the prosecuting attorney’s office and the contracting public defense firm.

Clallam Public Defender Director Harry Gasnick proposed a contract that would pay his firm $1.12 million — or 87 percent of what deputy prosecuting attorneys earn if a higher amount — plus $165,000 for operational expenses in 2018.

“And then there are different cost breakdowns for the years 2019, 2020, 2021 and ’22 such that by the year 2022, we have worked ourselves up from an 87 percent comparability to a 95 percent comparability of the compensation for the prosecuting attorney’s office,” board Chairman Mark Ozias said while reading the proposal in Tuesday’s business meeting.

Ozias thanked Gasnick for submitting the bid.

“There’s a lot of work that’s clearly been put into this,” Ozias said.

Clallam County budgeted to spend $1.25 million this year for indigent defense, up from $1.14 million in 2016 and $930,240 in 2015.

County Administrator Jim Jones has said public defense costs have tripled since 2006, mainly because of state Supreme Court mandates.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsula dailynews.com.

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