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Yes! Public defenders are just as “real” as private criminal defense lawyers and civil lawyers. All the attorneys at the Cowlitz County Office of Public Defense graduated from college and law school and have met the same Washington State Bar Association requirements to practice law in the courts of this state.
Absolutely not. Although the Cowlitz County Office of Public Defense is funded by county government, the office is an independent agency separate and apart from the prosecutor’s office and the court. Our lawyers are loyal to their clients first and are bound by codes of professional conduct requiring that they provide zealous advocacy and protection to each client, the same as private lawyers.
Unfortunately, no. Our office is only authorized to give legal advice to clients whom the courts have assigned to us to represent. Unless you are a client, we cannot give legal advice or answer legal questions.
If formal charges are filed against you, an arraignment will be scheduled. The arraignment is not a trial and not a time when evidence can be presented. At most arraignments, a copy of the charges you will be provided to you, if you do not have a lawyer, the judge can determine if you are eligible for a public defender. Expect to have a plea of “not guilty” entered at your arraignment. Your case normally will be scheduled for a status hearing, omnibus hearing, and trial. You must attend your arraignment hearing.
A pre-trial hearing (or omnibus hearing) is the court proceeding where you and your lawyer will indicate whether you will either go to trial, settle the case with a plea of guilty, or ask for extra time. You may find that the courtroom is crowded when you arrive, and that you have to wait before you can meet with your court-appointed lawyer. However, no action will be taken on your case before you and your lawyer have talked. Your lawyer might have one or more legal forms for you to read and sign. You must attend your pre-trial hearing.
The trial readiness is a hearing when we let the court know if you are ready for trial the following week. You must attend trial readiness hearing.
WA trial is the court proceeding where the prosecutor will present evidence and try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of a crime. This is the hearing when witnesses testify. Through your lawyer, you will be able to question the witnesses against you and present witnesses on your own behalf. Most trials are decided by a jury, but some are decided by a judge alone. You have a right to a jury trial.
A sentencing hearing will take place only if you are found guilty at a trial or if you agree to plead guilty. The court proceeding is handled by the judge, who will use the recommendations of the prosecutor and your lawyer: sometimes the judge has input from other people such as a probation or DOC officer, the listed victim and people who support you. In felony cases the Sentencing Guidelines are used to determine your sentencing range. You always have the right to speak at your sentencing hearing. The judge will consider many things to determine your sentence.
The courts are working very hard to avoid having lots of people in a small place. Many court hearings are occurring via Zoom and you can log on to the Zoom link for your court appearance.
When using Zoom, be sure that you are muted and only speak when your case is called. You can press *67 to mute and unmute yourself.
A limited number of cases are occurring in person. For in person hearing you will need to wear a facemask in court, observe 6ft social distancing and may be required to take your temperature. If you cannot attend in person because you’re running a fever or have been recently exposed to someone or diagnosed with COVID. Should that occur, you will need to call our office immediately!!
If you are in jail or juvenile detention, your attorney will come see you to discuss your case. If you are out of custody, your attorney will contact you to discuss your case. If you have not heard from your attorney, please call the office. Clients are seen by appointment only and phone contact is often the best way to reach your attorney. You can always email your attorney at the email listed in the staff directory.
A bench warrant is issued by a judge when a person with a pending criminal case violates the rules of the court. Sometimes a warrant is issued for violating pre-trial release conditions. Most often, people with bench warrants simply have failed to show up for a scheduled court appearance. Once a bench warrant is issued, the police can treat it like any other warrant and use it to arrest people and keep them in jail, until the appear back in front of a judge. If you have a bench warrant, you need to contact your attorney as soon as possible.
Based on the Washington State Supreme Court Ruling in State v. Blake, 197 Wn.2d 170, 481 P.3d 521 (2021), convictions for Possession of Controlled Substance, aka called Violation of Uniform Controlled Substances Act (VUCSA), were not lawful. Your conviction for that charge can be vacated. You should contact our office and our Blake support staff and Blake attorney can discuss your options for having that conviction vacated. You should contact our office and our Blake support staff and Blake resource attorney can discuss your options for having that conviction vacated and to assist if you need to be resentenced.
Only a prosecuting attorney or a judge can drop or dismiss a case. Your case has been filed in the name of the State of Washington, not the name of the complaining witnesses. Even if complaining witnesses say that they do not want to see you prosecuted, they don’t have the power to get your case dismissed.
You can call the front desk and ask the receptionist or you can look on Find My Court Date.
Washington Courts provides information on how to clear your record. The paperwork is here: http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/?fa=forms.contribute&formID=38
Many concerns can be resolved by talking directly to your public defender. Call the office at 360-578-7430. All incoming calls go through the main phone line. The receptionist can tell you who your attorney is and connect you with your attorney or your attorney’s voice mail. If you cannot discuss your concerns with your attorney, please email or send a letter. All the attorneys’ email addresses are listed in the staff directory.
If you are unable to work out the issue with your attorney, you may contact the Director of the office, Ian Maher. Your written concerns may be sent to:
Cowlitz County Office of Public Defense1801 First Avenue, Suite 1ALongview, WA 98632
You may also send an email to MaherI@cowlitzwa.gov.
If your concern is urgent, you may call the office at 360-578-7430.
Please include the following information in your letter/email/phone call:
CCOPD reviews concerns raised by our clients. CCOPD does not accept complaints from family members or other third parties on behalf of the defendant. CCOPD does not accept anonymous complaints.
Please note that complaints submitted to OPD may be subject to disclosure as a public record.