Skagit Co. cities, ACLU spar over public defense

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SEATTLE (AP) -- Attorneys for the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington are sparring with the American Civil Liberties Union over allegations that the Skagit County cities knew their public defenders were overburdened with cases.

In a federal lawsuit, the ACLU says the two part-time attorneys contracted by the cities fielded more than 2,100 cases in 2010, even though Washington state Bar Association guidelines say full-time public defenders shouldn't surpass 400 cases a year.

Because of the heavy caseload, the ACLU says the attorneys often didn't meet with clients prior to going to court or did not investigate charges by prosecutors, among other allegations, violating the 6th Amendment of the Constitution.

Attorneys for the cities say the work by the two attorneys did not result in state bar complaints or convictions overturned.

Both sides had opening oral arguments on Wednesday.