New officers, rules add more strain on Yakima's Municipal Court

YAKIMA, Wash. -- A change in the judicial system could deliver an expensive blow to the City of Yakima.

At the center of it is a rule being decided by the State Supreme Court that would limit how much work public defenders can do.

It's expected to help set standards of quality in defense representation but also force the city to spend a lot more on lawyers.

Currently, the city contracts five public defenders who handle more than 4,000 cases a year, which is roughly 800 each.

That could be limited to 400 a year if a new rule takes effect as expected.

At the same time, the new police officers could also add about 2,000 cases to the city's strained court system.

"You would be looking at a tripling, tripling or even quadrupling, the public defense budget," said Yakima City Prosecutor Cynthia Martinez.

Martinez says it means Yakima would have to hire about 15 to 20 more public defenders.

The city's current contract of almost a half-million dollars a year could jump by another million at least.

Martinez tells KIMA the city has already put in place measures to cut criminal justice costs.

We wanted to know where city leaders planned to turn next to front the bill.

"If we don't have the resources to meet these mandates, then you're forcing communities to decrease the level of enforcement that they want to take," Interim City Manager Michael Morales.

That's the complete opposite of the city's current plan to hire 12 new police officers.

Martinez says the increase in costs might give the city no other choice.

"We would really have to get selective in what we prosecute...that would have to happen," said Martinez.

Interim City Manager Michael Morales says a mandate from the Supreme Court would impact the judicial system more than the officers.

All of it has to be considered as the city begins looking at next year's budget.