Ex-felon sues Washington county over appointed defender’s lack of qualification

Calvin Hines claimed that his attorney was not licensed to practise in the state

Ex-felon sues Washington county over appointed defender’s lack of qualification

Ex-felon Calvin Hines has sued Asotin County in Washington state and its board of county commissioners over his appointed defender, who he claimed was not licensed to practise in the state.

In September 2017, Hines was charged with second-degree theft and first-degree trafficking in stolen property. Robert Van Idour was appointed as Hines’s attorney for his trial before the Superior Court of Washington for Asotin County.

Hines said in his suit that he had pleaded guilty to the charges on Van Idour’s advice that he had “no defences to the criminal charges,” and was subsequent jailed for 19 months. On his release, Hines challenged having to pay for Van Idour’s services as he considered them “inadequate,” and discovered that Van Idour did not have a license to practise in Washington.

Hines claimed that when Van Idour was contracted by Asotin County, they were aware that he did not meet the minimum qualifications for contract attorneys. Van Idour was required to be “a current member in good standing with the Washington State Bar Association” throughout his contract period; however, the Superior Court’s standard form for the appointment of indigent counsel did not list a bar number for Van Idour.

Moreover, Van Idour failed to conduct “an adequate factual or legal investigation in to potential defenses to the alleged crimes nor did he pursue any motions to dismiss,” the suit said.

Hines said he had since learned that his case could be defended; police records valued the items he allegedly stole at US$80—well below the US$750 threshold that constituted second-degree theft. Allegations also indicated that he had trafficked stolen property in Asotin County; however, law enforcement records showed that he had supposedly pawned the goods in Lewiston, Idaho—outside of Asotin County’s jurisdiction.

Thus, Hines said, Asotin County had “knowingly and intentionally” violated his right to the assistance of effective counsel and due process under the 6th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution. He claimed that Asotin County’s appointment of Van Idour to the case was a cost-cutting measure, as an unqualified attorney would be “less likely to take cases to trial but, instead, would be inclined to resolve cases by having indigent defendants plead guilty to crimes charged, which practice would save the county money.” 

The outcome sought by Hines includes a jury trial for damages, punitive damages and the payment of his attorneys’ fees.

Asotin County filed a motion to dismiss Hines’s suit, saying that he “has not alleged (and cannot show) that his underlying criminal convictions were overturned or otherwise invalidated, making his ineffective assistance of counsel claims barred.” The motion also said that the Asotin County board of county commissioners was not “a separate legal entity against whom suit can be brought.”

The American Bar Association Journal reported that it had attempted to contact an Idaho-licensed attorney named Robert Van Idour for comment.

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