Judge Robert Lasnik in Federal District Court in Seattle has issued an historic decision in a case challenging the systemic ineffectiveness of counsel in two Washington State cities, Mt. Vernon and Burlington. With dramatic language, he has found the cities liable and ordered that they hire a supervisor to remedy their broken system.

The Washington Defender Association filed an amicus brief, the US Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest, and the ACLU of Washington, Toby Marshall and Matt Zuchetto, and a Perkins Coie team led by James Williams were counsel for the class of plaintiffs.

The Court concluded in its order:

It has been fifty years since the United States Supreme Court first recognized that the accused has a right to the assistance of counsel for his defense in all criminal prosecutions and that the state courts must appoint counsel for indigent defendants who cannot afford to retain their own lawyer. The notes of freedom and liberty that emerged from Gideon’s trumpet a half a century ago cannot survive if that trumpet is muted and dented by harsh fiscal measures that reduce the promise to a hollow shell of a hallowed right.

Read the entire order here

Listen to NPR interview about the case with Robert Boruchowitz