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King County

Charter Amendment No. 1
County Department of Public Defense

Shall the King County Charter be amended to create an appointed office of county public defender, a department of public defense, and a public defense advisory board, and require the executive to consult with the county public defender on the executive’s bargaining with employees of the department of public defense?



This proposed amendment to the King County Charter concerns the creation of a county department of public defense within the county’s executive branch.  Historically public defense counsel has been provided by non-profit corporations who provided the services to clients through contracts paid by King County.  This charter amendment is part of a process of moving the contractors to the county as county employees.  This move follows a class action lawsuit in which the court ruled that the nonprofit employees were legally entitled to certain county benefits.

Under the proposed charter amendment, the department of public defense would be an executive branch department and would be responsible for providing counsel and representation to indigent individuals to the extent required under the State and Federal Constitutions.  The department would also be responsible for fostering and promoting system improvements, efficiencies, access to justice, and equity in the criminal justice system. 

The department would be managed by the county public defender, who would be appointed by the county executive from a list of candidates recommended by the public defense advisory board (described below).  The executive’s appointment would be subject to confirmation by the county council.  The county public defender would serve a four-year term and would be eligible for re-appointment to additional terms. 

The proposed charter amendment would also establish a public defense advisory board to review, advise and report on the department and on matters of equity and social justice.  Membership on the board and the process for appointment would be prescribed by the county council by ordinance.

For additional questions regarding this measure contact: Amy Tsai - Legislative Analyst 206-477-0893 •



This amendment is necessary to implement changes to the King County public defense structure resulting from a recent settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit. King County historically has contracted with private, non-profit corporations for the provision of public defense services. Because these corporations were viewed as independent contractors, their employees did not receive county benefits.  As a result of the settlement, public defenders became county employees July 1, 2013, requiring restructuring of the public defense system.

A properly functioning and independent public defense system is paramount to the fundamental principles of our justice system. Public defenders perform a vital role within the justice system by advocating for the rights of all citizens regardless of income. They represent individuals who cannot afford to pay for their own lawyer, primarily in criminal, civil commitment, and termination of parental rights cases.  This amendment protects the strengths of our nationally recognized public defense system while meeting the requirements of the Court settlement. 

Please vote yes to give King County’s Public Defender the strong, independent voice needed to continue our tradition of excellence and independence in protecting the civil liberties of the most vulnerable residents of King County.

Statement submitted by: Christie Hedman, Larry Gossett and Jacqueline McMurtrie

No statement submitted.

Statements in favor of and in opposition to a ballot measure are submitted by committees appointed by the jurisdiction. No persons came forward to serve on the committee and to write a statement in opposition. If you would like to be involved with a committee in the future please contact the jurisdiction.

Simple Majority (King County Charter Section 800)


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