The Bellingham Municipal Court's assigned counsel program has been recognized as a model for indigent defense, as reported in the Washington State Bar News.
Criminal defendants and probationers in Bellingham Municipal Court may qualify to be represented by assigned counsel, also known as public defenders, if they are found to be in need pursuant to Washington State poverty guidelines.
Defendants in infraction cases, civil cases, and those seeking post-conviction relief other than direct appeals of their criminal convictions do not qualify for assigned counsel. Criminal defendants and probationers may hire an attorney of their own choosing at their own expense, represent themselves, or apply for assigned counsel.
Assigned counsel are available at all arraignment calendars to answer questions and represent those charged with crimes, regardless of a defendant's financial status. If a defendant would like assigned counsel to represent him or her after arraignment, the defendant must immediately complete a written application at the clerk's window in the lobby. If additional documentation is required to complete the application, that documentation should be submitted within one week of the arraignment.
The Court's application process has been simplified in order to promote efficiency. A defendant may qualify if he or she meets Washington State poverty guidelines and/or if the defendant receives certain forms of governmental assistance, such as general assistance, food stamps, social security disability payments, and TANIF.
Depending on the applicant's status, the following documents are required:
If a defendant is qualified for a public defender, court staff will direct the defendant to contact assigned counsel in five (5) business days. If a defendant is found ineligible for assigned counsel, the defendant may contact the clerk's window or call (360)778-8150 to request a hearing before the judge to appeal the initial determination of eligibility. These hearings will be scheduled on a Monday or Thursday at 9:45 a.m.
NOTE: If a defendant is found guilty, the defendant may be required to
contribute towards the costs of assigned counsel as a condition of the