Six Benton County public defenders quit

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RICHLAND (AP) — Six of the nine lawyers with contracts to represent poor defendants in Benton County Superior Court have quit.

The Tri-City Herald reports that reasons for the resignations aren't clear, but could relate to new rules adopted by the state Supreme Court limiting how many cases public defenders can handle. Eric Hsu, the indigent defense coordinator for Benton and Franklin counties, says he hopes to speak with the attorneys this week.

The Supreme Court's new rules say full-time public defenders should take on no more than 150 felony cases each year or 300 misdemeanor cases, and that if they work that many cases they can't do any private practice work on the side.

Benton County's contract lawyers have a 150-felony-case cap and get paid $82,105 a year. Several have also done additional private work.

The newspaper reported that it contacted four of the lawyers who quit on Friday, but each said they couldn't discuss the issue until this week.

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