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County expands public defender office

In an action that could save $200,000 a year Kitsap County will hire two new attorneys to work as public defenders. This will create a three-member staff that will handle the needs of defendants who are unable to pay for their own representation.

The expanded office is headed by public defender Clark Tibbets, who assumed the job in August.

The salary for the positions will be around $60,000 per year. The first year salaries for the positions are grant funded, with subsequent years paid out of the general fund. Kitsap County Clerk Dave Peterson said the county would pay more to pay attorneys on a contract basis, as is now done, and get less.

“We will have no trouble filling these positions with experienced people,” said Kitsap County Clerk Dave Peterson. “These are jobs that offer benefits and vacation, which a lot of lawyers do not have.”

Bringing the public defender positions in-house is not a popular idea with local law firms which, according to Peterson, “really hate the idea.” Even so, Tibbets said he expected “an avalanche” of applications for the two positions.

“These are good jobs,” he said. “Working for the government is a lot less stressful than being in private practice.”

Tibbets should know, as he recently closed his private practice in the Wenatchee area to take the Kitsap public defender job.

Tibbets said the job openings will be posted in the next few weeks, and that the new public defenders should be in place by early 2010.

Aside from the job posting, the immediate action is to instruct Special Projects Manager Brian Lyman to find space for the expanded office. While Lyman said he thought he could find space in the courthouse, but the office could end up in an auxiliary building.

Of the satellite locations owned by the county, Givens Center probably will not be used for this purpose. According to one attorney attending the meeting “you don’t want sex offenders awaiting trial to be in the same building as a day care center.”

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