TVW Update

Inside Olympia – Legal Help

November 11, 2021

Last week we spoke for the full hour with State Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez. This week, we dive deeper into the judicial branch, interviewing the directors of two small state agencies with big roles in the state’s judicial system.

Jim Bamberger directs the state’s Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA), which is on the front lines of providing access to legal services for low-income people facing non-criminal legal matters like eviction, bankruptcy and family law matters. For instance the OCLA might help a victim of domestic violence obtain a protection order. The office is also in the midst of launching a first-in-the-nation right to legal representation for tenants facing eviction.

The OCLA is an independent agency within the judicial branch that is funded by the state and overseen by a bipartisan 11-member committee. In addition to general civil legal aid, the office provides assistance to crime victims and to children who remain in foster care six months after their parent’s legal rights have been terminated.

In April Larry Jefferson Jr. was named Washington’s new director of the WA Office of Public Defense (OPD). Just a few months before he was appointed, the WA Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state’s simple drug possession law. That ruling has had major implications for thousands of people sentenced under that law, and OPD has a major role in sorting out how the “Blake” decision will affect the sentences of thousands of Washingtonians, some of whom are no longer incarcerated, others of whom are still behind bars.

Like the Office of Civil Legal Aid, OPD is an independent agency with the judicial branch. It administers the state funding to provide attorneys for those who cannot afford one. The office contacts with approximately 300 attorneys and social workers across the state.

Among the office’s specific responsibilities: working through the impacts of the Blake drug-possession decision; representing parents in dependence and termination proceedings; representing people who are appealing their criminal convictions or other decisions made by courts; and soon, the office will be ensuring that youth have the ability to call an attorney before they are questioned or searched by police.

You can learn more about your state judiciary by watching the entire episode, any time, at tvw.org.

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