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
- EMPLOYED-Bring the most recent three months of pay stubs showing
- SELF-EMPLOYED-Bring a current profit/loss statement, statement of
net worth or quarterly income, or a signed copy of most recent federal
income tax return or proof of non-filing status. IRS phone number is
- UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS-Bring written proof of denial of benefits or
most recent printout of benefits. Phone Washington Unemployment Claims
Tele center at 1-800-318-6022 for assistance;
- SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY OR OTHER BENEFICIARY-Bring a statement
from Social Security showing monthly income amount or three most recent
banks statements showing direct deposit;
- STUDENT-Bring award letter showing the last three quarter totals
from the financial aid office. Student aid is considered income for
purposes of qualifying for a public defender;
- FOOD STAMP/TANIF RECIPIENT-Provide current award letter from DSHS.
Phone 1-877-501-2233 for DSHS.
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