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FAQs about public defense in King County

FAQs about public defense in King County

Here is a list of questions DPD often receives from clients. If you have a question that you don't see answered here, please call DPD's main office at 206-296-7662 or email us at

Public defenders are free if you are determined to be indigent (please see our eligibility page, Legal Services for Our Community, to learn more). If you have enough money that you are not considered indigent, but not enough to afford your own attorney, you are considered “able to contribute.” In this case, the DPD screener will have you sign a promissory note to help defray the cost of the attorney, which can be paid back over a period of months.

DPD uses a modified version of the state definition of indigency based on a self-sufficiency scale for the King County metro area to determine if someone qualifies for a public defender. Please contact us at 206-296-7662 to determine your eligibility for our services.

You can either call DPD at 206-296-7662 or King County Accounts Receivable at 206-296-1494. Please have your case number and account number available when you call.
No. The Department of Public Defense decides if you qualify for a public defender. If you do, you will be given the name of a DPD Division. Four business days later you can call that division and find out the name and phone number of the attorney who has been assigned to your case.

You can call our office at 206-296-7662 Monday to Friday during normal business hours. Or, if it's after business hours, you can call our on-call attorney services line at 206-477-8899. You can also refer to our Legal Resources Page for other legal help.

DPD offices are open from 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The department's screeners, who determine whether someone is financially eligible for a public defender, are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They screen only via phone. No appointment is necessary. Please call the DPD financial screening line at (206) 477-9727. For more information about how to screen for an attorney, visit our "How to obtain an attorney" page

Yes. Please call us at 206-477-9727 to conduct a financial interview over the phone.

If you are being held on a charge, an attorney will be present to represent you at your arraignment.

A court hearing where the defendant is asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. DPD will provide an attorney to represent the defendant at arraignment.

There will be an attorney at arraignment to represent you. However, that attorney will generally not continue with your case. If you are out of custody, you will need to complete a financial screening at DPD. To screen by phone, please call our office at 206-477-9727; interviewers are available by phone between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. (They take their last interview at 4:15 p.m.) No appointment is necessary. You can also come into our office or one of the county courthouses in person. Visit this page for more information.

At the time of your financial screening, the DPD interviewer will give you the name of the public defense division you have been assigned to. We will also give the division your case. That division will assign an individual attorney to represent you. Four business days after your assignment you can call the division to find out the name of your attorney. A list of the divisions and their phone numbers can be found on the DPD Divisions  page.

If you have been assigned an attorney but have forgotten his or her name, call the attorney’s division; someone there will be able to tell you your attorney’s name. If you can’t remember the name of the division, call DPD’s general number – 296-7662. The receptionist will be able to help you.

DPD does its best to reassign returning clients to the same public defender division, whenever possible. If you are scheduled for a review hearing, you must have a financial screening to see if you still qualify for a public defender if it’s been more than 180 days since your last screening. If you’ve been screened in the past 180 days you do not need to be re-screened.

If you have a complaint about your attorney, call the DPD Division that attorney works in, ask for your attorney's supervisor, and talk with them about your concerns. Many problems can be resolved by the attorney's supervisor. If the supervisor cannot resolve the problem, you should send a letter in writing to the DPD Complaint Service Coordinator. Please see our complaints page for more information.

No. DPD assigns your case to one of the four divisions based upon availability and legal requirements. The division is then responsible for assigning your attorney.

Yes. If you have been charged with a crime in Seattle Municipal Court, you can apply for an attorney directly through the court. Please go to the Seattle Justice Center, 600 Fifth Avenue, First Floor (window to quash warrants), in Seattle. From there, you'll be directed to the screening office for a financial interview. If you qualify, you'll be assigned a King County public defender. The phone number is 206-386-1543.

No. The Department of Public Defense handles only criminal, jailable charges in the King County and Seattle courts and certain civil matters, including dependency actions, civil commitment cases, and sex offender commitments. See Resources for a list of civil legal aid agencies in the area that provide other kinds of legal assistance.

Yes. DPD represents parents and certain children in cases filed by the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). Those cases, called dependency cases, are filed when DCYF believes a child has been maltreated or is at risk of maltreatment. If the child is removed by either DCYF, law enforcement, or a hospital, the parent or parents have a right to a hearing within 72 hours of the child’s removal (excluding weekends and holidays), called a “shelter care hearing.” (DCYF can also file a petition and ask the court to remove a child from the parents' care after a shelter care hearing.) An attorney will be assigned for each parent at the shelter care hearing, and in certain situations, DPD is able to give advice before the hearing.

If your child is in the process of being removed you can call our office immediately at 206-296-7662 to get legal advice. (If it is after hours, call our on-call attorney line at 206-477-8899.) Also, watch this four-minute video, “What to Do If Your Child Is Removed by CPS.” But it is important to note that we don’t represent parents who are under investigation by CPS. Many cases are investigated, but the child or children are not removed and no dependency petition is filed; unfortunately our office does not have the resources to assist all parents in that situation.


No, DPD does not handle child support hearings. However, if you are being held in contempt of court for failing to pay child support, DPD will appoint you an attorney for the contempt issue only, since contempt of court is a jailable offense.

No. To get a protection order, contact either the Superior Court Clerk or District Court.
No. These hearings are for non-jailable offenses, and therefore we cannot appoint a public defender.

DPD handles misdemeanor appeals only.

For information about felony appeals, contact: 

Under Washington law, some felony and misdemeanor convictions can be vacated from your record. DPD provides legal assistance to people with criminal convictions who would like to get those convictions vacated and who qualify. Visit our post-conviction support page for more information. The Washington Courts (external) also provides information on how to clear your record.