Following a national search, King County Executive Dow Constantine accepted the recommendation of a public defense advisory board and named Lorinda Youngcourt as King County’s first public defender under a new organizational structure approved by voters. Youngcourt was the chief public defender for Lawrence County, Ind.
“Lorinda has a deep commitment to indigent defense, with the skills and expertise to protect the rights of the accused as guaranteed under the Constitution,” said Executive Constantine. “With the amount of change brought about by a high court ruling and class-action settlement, she brings a national reputation for excellence to the task of leading our department and upholding the highest traditions of public defense in King County.”
Under a process spelled out in the County Code, the 11-member King County Public Defense Advisory Board submitted the names of candidates to the County Executive. Advisory Board Chair Marc Boman said his group looks forward to working with Youngcourt.
“Ms. Youngcourt was one of the names we submitted and we are pleased to welcome her as the new director,” said Boman. “She brings to the position more than 25 years of experience in criminal defense, as well as experience building and leading a new county-level public defender agency.”
Youngcourt received her law degree from Indiana University School of Law and has extensive experience in defending clients facing the death penalty in both state and federal courts, and is a leader on the national level through the National Association of Public Defenders and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Youngcourt chairs the Indiana Public Defender Council, a statutory agency that provides support services to the state’s 1,300 public defenders and statewide leadership on issues of criminal justice. She is currently the Chief Public Defender for the Lawrence County Public Defender Agency in Bedford, Ind., where she created a new office of indigent defense services to replace an antiquated system where underpaid private attorneys were hired and fired by local judges.
“I’m deeply honored for the opportunity to bring my strong values and experience to King County’s public defense system,” said Youngcourt. “King County is known throughout the country for its committed staff, strong advocacy, and client-centered approach. I look forward to working with the staff, the advisory board, the Executive, and the County Council in taking public defense to the next level in King County.”
Youngcourt succeeds interim Public Defender David Chapman, who did not seek the permanent position.
“Dave’s vision, steady leadership, and skillful management helped us all make the transition to this new model for delivering services to the public,” said Executive Constantine. “Dave set a strong foundation for the future of public defense in King County. He leaves a lasting legacy, and he has my eternal gratitude.”
Youngcourt begins her new position on January 20, 2015. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the King County Council.
About the Department of Public Defense
The King County Department of Public Defense provides legal services to approximately 15,000 indigent clients a year who face felony or misdemeanor charges, civil commitment proceedings, dependency proceedings and other criminal or civil issues. The department’s social workers, investigators, paralegals and other staff also provide client support and advocacy.
Public defense services in the County were historically contracted out to four nonprofit agencies, a system that changed after a class-action lawsuit resulted in a state Supreme Court ruling that found the nonprofits were “arms and agencies” of the County. The Metropolitan King County Council created the new Department of Public Defense in May 2013, and on July 1, 2013, the 350 employees at the four nonprofits became county employees.
In November 2013, voters approved an amendment to the King County Charter making the new department a permanent part of County government, establishing the position of chief Public Defender to direct the department, and creating a Public Defense Advisory Board to advise the department, review its proposed budget, issue an annual report on the state of the county’s public defense system, and forward candidates for the position of Public Defender whenever it becomes vacant.