September 2009 Bar Bulletin
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September 2009 Bar Bulletin


The Defender Association Celebrates 40 Years

By Robert C. Boruchowitz


The Defender Association, which began as a Model Cities program and is the oldest of the four non-profit defender offices in King County, plans to celebrate its 40th anniversary with a gala event at Benaroya Hall on October 21. The Association expects more than 300 people, including many alumni, to attend.

The Defender Association has 80 attorneys representing clients in more than 11,000 cases per year in felony, misdemeanor, juvenile, family advocacy and civil commitment cases, as well as a number of appeals at all levels of the state courts.

Many of the Association’s former attorneys have become leaders in the bench and bar. Federal Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida, who was the felony supervisor at The Defender, is the most recent judicial appointment. The first Defender director, John Darrah, later became both a Municipal Court judge and a Superior Court judge. Two of the office’s deputy directors, George Finkle and James Doerty, became Superior Court judges. Other supervisors, including Ron Kessler and Helen Halpert, became Superior Court judges. More than 14 Defender attorneys have become judges.

Other alumni have become leaders in the private bar, in government and in academia. Dolores Sibonga became a City Council member and Marilyn Smith became president of the Seattle School Board. Kate Pflaumer became the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington. Bob Welden is general counsel for the Washington State Bar Association. Former Defender attorneys teach at the law schools of the University of Washington, Seattle University, Cardozo, the University of West Virginia, Northwestern and DePaul.

And a number of attorneys have become federal defenders, spawning a running joke between the two offices. The Defender calls the Federal Defender its retirement home and the Federal Defender likes to call on its “farm team” for new hires.

The Defender Association is recognized regionally and nationally as a leader in public defense, and its staff members are active in national and local bar associations and have received numerous awards. For example, Legal Intern Supervisor Theresa Allman was named 2008 Mentor of the Year by the King County Bar Association. Several of The Defender attorneys and alumni have won the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers William O. Douglas award, including Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Jeff Robinson, Simmie Baer, Richard Hansen, Lenell Nussbaum, David Allen, Bob Boruchowitz and Katie Ross.

Late King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng said of The Defender and the Seattle system, “I think we really have a national model for an effective public defense.”

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