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WADA Squeezed Out of Existence

The Washington Appellate Defenders Association (WADA) ceased operating on July 31, 1995, because the nonprofit firm and the state could not agree to terms for a new contract. Patricia Novotny, WADA's assistant director said, "Our decision wasn't, not to re-sign [the contract], but was a decision not to go bankrupt." WADA had long been under contract to handle indigent criminal appeals in Division I (Northwest Washington, including Seattle). The courts tried but failed to persuade the WA legislature to raise the compensation paid to WADA from $1,995 per case to $2,495 in its 1995-97 budget. The demise of WADA cost twenty attorneys and five support staff their jobs. WADA paid its attorneys a salary scale ranging from $26,000 to $43,673.

Division I indigent criminal appeals will now be divided between another nonprofit agency, the Washington Appellate Project and a for-profit law firm, Nielson & Acosta. The WA Appellate Project pays its attorneys $26,500 a year. Nielsen & Acosta has eight attorneys, but relies on 20 "contract attorneys" to handle the indigent appeals. The contract attorneys will be paid between $900 and $1,300 per case. The firm's partners, including Eric Broman who will supervise the "temp worker" attorneys, say they hope to "control costs" by using contract attorneys who work out of their own offices or homes and provide their own computers and modems to connect with the firm's office.

This year Nielson & Acosta could be the sole provider of indigent appeals in Division I. Richard Tassano, director of the Washington Appellate Project, has said that his agency won't renew its contract unless the state changes the way it pays for indigent appeals.

The demise of WADA, and the probable demise of the Washington Appellate Project, both nonprofit organizations who relied on in-house, salaried attorneys, is a result of the courts' move to "competitive bidding" to assign appeals cases to the lowest bidder. When the court made that move, Eric Nielson and Carmine Acosta, who were both sole practitioners at the time, formed their law firm, put in a bid and were given the contract.

As a result, salaried attorneys who had had the luxury of going to sleep each night knowing that they would have a job the next day, have been replaced by what amounts to "temps" who must provide their own working quarters, computers, office supplies, health insurance, utilities, etc. and who live with the day-to-day uncertainty of whether enough crumbs fall off of Nielson & Acosta's table to feed them for another day. This is the type of "flexible labor" that has "made America more competitive in a global market," and which has resulted in ManPower, Inc. overtaking General Motors as the country's largest employer.

What shouldn't be overlooked in this, however, is the question of what kind of legal assistance will indigent prisoners get when their appeals are handed over to "the lowest bidder." The least time consuming way to handle such an appeal is for the attorney to simply "go through the motions" of an appeal and hope the courts dispose of the case as quickly as possible. A case involving a reversible error by the trial court and/or outright wrongful conviction would be considerably more time consuming to contend with. How many of the contract attorneys will diligently pursue such a case?

When "justice" is contracted out to the lowest bidder, everybody losses, well... everybody, perhaps except Nielson & Acosta. The state pays them $1,995 per appeal, which they then "contract out" to free-lance attorneys who are paid between $900 and $1,300 per case. Who knows, maybe one of the twenty attorneys who were formerly employed full-time at WADA will even become hungry and desperate enough to beg for crumbs from Nielson & Acosta.

Under the 6th amendment defendants have some rights on who represents them, even if they cannot afford counsel. Todd Maybrown of the law firm Allen & Hansen is considering filing suit on behalf of the 800 WADA clients who were stranded by its demise. Affected prisoners can contact him at: 1001 4th Ave. Plaza #4301, Seattle, WA 98154; (206) 447-9681.

Prisoners whose appeals have been assigned to Neilson & Acosta and who experience problems of unprofessionalism (i.e. counsel won't accept calls, return letters, consult with clients, etc.) should consider filing a complaint with the Washington Bar Association. Attorney David Zuckerman, 705 2nd Ave. Suite 1300, Seattle, WA 98104, is willing to assist prisoners in drafting bar complaints pertaining to Nielson & Acosta. PLN is aware of several prisoners whose paperwork has been "lost" or mislaid or misfiled by Nielson & Acosta.

Source: Washington Journal , 8/10/95

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