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County commissioners approve agreement with state reimburse for Blake-related costs

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Office of Public Defense

Attorney Shoshanah Epstein works in August at her office in the Cowlitz County Office of Public Defense. Epstein has helped resolve resentencing cases since simple drug possession convictions were ruled unconstitutional in February by the Washington state Supreme Court. 

The Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday accepted an agreement with the state to reimburse the county more than $2.57 million to pay for costs of resentencing and refunding defendants affected by the Blake decision.

In February, the state Supreme Court ruled Washington’s simple drug possession law was unconstitutional. The ruling, known as the Blake decision, overturned roughly 40 years of convictions of people only possessing drugs, as opposed to attempting to sell.

The county agreement with the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts includes up to $2 million in reimbursement for costs of resentencing and vacating sentences of defendants whose convictions or sentence are affected by the Blake decision. The agreement also includes up to $578,660 in reimbursement to refund fines to defendants.

So far, $90K in Cowlitz County Superior Court fees to be refunded in Blake decision cases

Kurt Williams, interim chief of staff, said the county will apply for reimbursements monthly as it spends the money on Blake-related court costs. The county has until July 1, 2022, to spend the money.

Commissioner Dennis Weber said he appreciates the money from the state, but doesn’t know if it will come close to covering all the costs. The county agreed to enter a lawsuit with other counties saying the money is not enough, he said.

Overall, the county has collected roughly $3.1 million in court fees for simple drug possession convictions from 1993 — when courts across the state joined the same accounting system — to June 30, said Clerk Staci Myklebust earlier this month. To receive court fee refunds, people have to initiate the formal legal process to remove the now void conviction from their records.

Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Jurvakainen said people are entitled to the amount of fees they paid, not what they were ordered to pay.

Cowlitz County Prosecutor's Office tackles overhaul in state drug possession law and pandemic's court backlog
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