January 30, 2009

WA: Grant County - style p.d. work will cost you more than your bar license

Big news from the Spokesman-Review:

$3 million verdict for wrongly accused man

A federal jury in Spokane has awarded more than $3 million to Felipe G. Vargas who spent more than seven months in the Grant County jail, falsely accused of child molestation. The judgment was awarded against the former Grant County public defender, Thomas F. Earl, who provided “ineffective assistance of counsel” to Vargas...

Verdict rebuffs flat-fee defender contracts

A $3 million jury verdict in Spokane is sending a message to Washington counties, ending their practice of flat-fee contracts for public defenders, legal experts said Friday... Three days after (Felipe Vargas') arrest in November 2003, the alleged victim recanted. Police and prosecutors knew that but took no steps to free Vargas from jail. His public defender apparently was too busy with 500 other cases and didn’t adequately represent Vargas.

Grant County, also named defendant in Vargas’ 2006 civil rights suit, settled last month by paying him $250,000, based on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Moses Lake attorneys Garth Dano and George Ahrend filed the civil rights suit... “The importance of this case is it said, ‘Stop lying to the judges and each other, and don’t put your financial interests ahead of your clients,’” Dano said Friday.

John Strait, a legal ethic professor at Seattle University, testified as an expert. Flat-fee contracts, he said, “are all illegal and unethical for any attorney to enter into... “If there really are 17 counties left, and I doubt it, the lawyers who signed those contracts are subject to immediate discipline,” Strait said. “If you can identify any for me, I will file those bar complaints...”