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City and County Court Services

This page provides information about court services for city and county officials in Washington State, including examples of interlocal agreements, contracts and RFPs for public defense services, and other court related programs. For links to statutes, federal, state, county, municipal courts, and specialized courts relevant to Washington State, see Courts Overview.


The courts administered by local governments include the county superior court and the courts of limited jurisdiction: district courts and municipal courts. For a detailed description of Washington’s courts, see Guide to Washington State Courts.

RCW 39.34.180 requires that:

Each county, city, and town is responsible for the prosecution, adjudication, sentencing, and incarceration of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses committed by adults in their respective jurisdictions, and referred from their respective law enforcement agencies, whether filed under state law or city ordinance, and must carry out these responsibilities through the use of their own courts, staff, and facilities, or by entering into contracts or interlocal agreements under this chapter to provide these services.

Interlocal Agreements for Court Services

RCW 3.50.815 provides that a city may meet the requirements of RCW 39.34.180 by entering into an interlocal agreement with the county in which the city is located or with one or more cities.

Examples of Cities Contracting with Counties

Below are examples of interlocal agreements for court services between cities and counties.

Examples of Cities Contracting with Other Cities

Below are examples of interlocal agreements for court services between cities and other cities.

Examples of Municipal Court Studies

Below are examples of municipal studies for court services.

Public Defense Services

The right to counsel is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the Washington State Constitution, statutes, and court rules. When an individual has a right to counsel but is indigent, the government is required to provide a competent public defense attorney to represent that person (RCW 10.101.005).

For a good overview of how Washington city and county governments structure public defense services, see this Public Defense Overview developed by Spokane County's public defender.

Standards for Indigent Defense

Chapter 10.101 RCW provides the statutory framework for indegent defense services and standards. RCW 10.101.030 requires all cities and counties to adopt local standards for public defense services. This statute also mandated the Washington State Bar Association to develop a Standards for Indigent Defense Services document to assist cities and counties with developing these local standards.

In 2012 the Washington State Supreme Court adopted new Standards for Indigent Defense, limiting the number of cases public defenders should handle each year. Under the caseload limits, full-time public defenders should not have caseloads exceeding 300 or 400 misdemeanor cases per year (Standard 3.4), depending on whether the jurisdiction has developed a "numerical case weighting" system (Standard 3.6). The standards also address guidelines for administrative costs, limitations on private practice, qualifications of attorneys, appellate representation, and the use of legal interns.

For information on the implementation of the standards for indigent defense, see the Washington State Office of Public Defense Frequently Asked Questions Related to Implementation (2016).

Court Decision

In Wilbur v. Mount Vernon (2013) the federal district court found that the public defense systems provided by cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington violated indigent defendants' Sixth Amendment rights of effective assistance of counsel. The court issued a "continuing injunction” against the cities that, among other things, required the cities to hire a “Public Defense Supervisor” to supervise and evaluate the cities’ provision of public defense services and to ensure that indigent clients are provided certain specific services and receive adequate representation.

Model Misdemeanor Case Weighting Policy

Model Ordinance / Resolution Adopting Standards

Examples of Ordinances / Resolutions Adopting Standards

Below are an example of an ordinance and a resolution adopting standards. For a model resolution/ordinance, see Ogden Murphy Wallace's Ordinance/Resolution Adopting Standards.

Examples of RFPs for Indigent Defense / Public Defense Services

Below are examples of requests for proposals/qualifications for public defender services. For a model RFP, see Ogden Murphy Wallace's Request for Proposals for Public Defender Services.

Examples of Contracts for Indigent Defense / Public Defense Services

Below are examples of contracts for public/indigent defense services. For a model contract, see Ogden Murphy Wallace's Contract for Indigent Defense Services.

Recommended Resources

Examples of Adjudication by Mail / Email

Below are examples of online forms and information from cities and counties providing adjudication by mail/email.

Examples of Probation Programs

Below are some examples of city and county probation programs.

For an example of a probation report form, see Grant County’s District Court Monthly Probation Report Form (2017)

Examples of Volunteer Programs

Below are some examples of city and county courts volunteer programs.

Last Modified: July 12, 2019