Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle and South Park) celebrated news today that a full complement of attorneys has been hired to implement a new City-sponsored legal aid pilot program created to prevent people from losing their housing when they are in the midst of a legal defense for an unrelated offense. The creation of this pilot will allow new civic legal aid attorneys to partner with Public Defenders to advocate for the accused to keep their housing during the legal review and plea bargaining processes.
“An arrest that doesn’t lead to conviction can still result in a tenant’s eviction, which, to me, feels like the opposite of justice,” said Councilmember Herbold. “We’re dealing with an unprecedented homelessness crisis, and part of the solution is ensuring people stay in their homes.”
Last year, Councilmember Herbold spearheaded an effort to include money in the City’s annual budget for three attorneys to provide these additional legal services on misdemeanor cases heard through the Seattle Municipal Court.
This legal aid pilot program will provide those quick to accept a plea bargain, and unaware of the collateral consequences, with access to attorneys to advise them on ways to address the underlying alleged crime and also avoid an unintended consequence like the loss of their housing. Until a recent change resulting from last year’s budget action, Public Defenders were prohibited from engaging on matters unrelated to their assigned criminal cases.
Anita Khandelwal, Policy Director at the King County Department of Public Defense said, “A criminal conviction can have significant, negative consequences for an individual. Individuals with criminal convictions face the possible loss of housing or employment licenses, which makes it impossible for them to move forward with their lives. The Collateral Consequences attorneys funded by the City of Seattle will help DPD’s clients avoid some of those consequences and reduce the harmful impact of the conviction on the individual. Ultimately, Seattle’s investment will improve outcomes for DPD’s clients—which is good not just the clients, but also for our community.”
Seattle’s two year pilot program will operate similarly to existing civil legal aid models from the Public Defender Services for the District of Columbia and the Bronx Defenders in New York City. Council will hear initial findings about the pilot at the end of the year.