Thurston Public Defense Office unveils pandemic challenges and plans

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By JC Medina

Thurston County Public Defense unveiled its challenges over the past year amid the pandemic as it outlined new strategies and initiatives for 2022.

Director of Public Defense Patrick O’Connor said the impact of the pandemic on the department’s workload is “difficult to calculate”, during the Wednesday 30 Board of County Commissioners business session. March.

“The pandemic is affecting trial delays,” O’Connor said. “I’ll be frank, it’s not easy to calculate the impacts of the pandemic.”

O’Connor said they have about 11% of the budget for the year 2021 still unspent due to the lack of jury trials, halting the usual spending on professional and expert services.

However, O’Connor said his team is optimistic that jury trials will continue to open and be available in the county as the COVID-19 restriction eases.

“I would say that if we continue to have open and available jury trials, we will see an increase in our professional services staff and our attorney staff,” O’Connor said.

However, O’Connor said Public Defense staff are adapting well to the new hybrid setup, with some staff reporting to the office in person while others are working virtually through “telecommuting”.

“I think there’s been a culture shift throughout the pandemic. We’ve relied heavily on working from home because of the nature of the virus,” O’Connor said,

He mentioned that working from home paves the way for a new work-life balance for staff.

“I think it improves the overall happiness and employment of staff if they can have those options, again, in moderation and depending on the position,” he said.

Juvenile cases

Commissioner Carolina Mejia asked about the status of juvenile cases in the county, commenting that the pandemic has severely affected children.

In response, Juvenile and Civil Unit Robyn Martyn said the number of juvenile cases “continues to be low since everything was initially shut down in early 2020”.

Martyn said referrals from schools and school resource officers appear to be down due to classes taking place primarily online. However, Martyn noted that they deal with “more serious sexual offense cases”.

“The cases we are getting are more serious. And so our office has accounted for a much higher than usual number of juvenile sex offenses, which is unfortunate,” Martyn said the department now has two defense attorneys. miners in the house who focus on these cases.

Thurston County has declared April Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness about preventing child abuse and neglect.

At the proclamation ceremony, Maternal and Child Health Officer Gretchen Thaller said the pandemic has affected the state of child abuse in the county, saying cases may have increased and they may be under-reported.

“We know families have been under tremendous stress during the pandemic,” Thaller said. “We believe child abuse was underreported at the start of the pandemic when we were all in lockdown…and we suspect the rate may have increased.”

The BOCC encouraged the public to wear blue this Friday, April 1, dubbing it “Go Blue Day”, to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect prevention and inspire change by focusing on community activities and public policies that prioritize prevention.

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