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Originally published Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 3:57 PM

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Trial begins over public defense in 2 Wash. cities

A trial begins Monday in federal court in Seattle to determine whether the Skagit County cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington are providing adequate legal representation to poor people charged with crimes.

Associated Press

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SEATTLE —

A trial begins Monday in federal court in Seattle to determine whether the Skagit County cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington are providing adequate legal representation to poor people charged with crimes.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington sued the cities two years ago, alleging a litany of shortcomings that systematically violated poor defendants' constitutional rights. The lawsuit noted that from 2005 to 2012 public defense services were provided by just two part-time lawyers, who combined handled more than 2,000 cases a year.

The plaintiffs say lawyers virtually never visited with their clients in jail, investigated their cases or did much of anything besides urge them to plead guilty.

The ACLU wants a permanent injunction and the appointment of a part-time public-defense supervisor to ensure basic legal standards are met.

The cities argue that they've made vast improvements in their public defense systems since the lawsuit was filed, and they now have four lawyers working at double the pay rate to represent indigent defendants.

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