Attorney Complaint Guidelines and Procedure

A Grays Harbor County citizen with a court appointed public defense attorney has the right to competent legal representation. Included are rights such as: 

  • Understanding charges against you, and evidence gathered by prosecution;
  • Communicating with the attorney about the case before court appearances;
  • Getting information about plea offers, and advice about the related risks and benefits; and
  • Deciding whether to accept plea offers, and whether to go to trial.

Filing a complaint against your public defense attorney is a serious step, considered a last resort. It can seriously diminish the working relationship with your attorney, who may be the only person 100% on your side!

What do I do before filing a complaint?

  • Have patience. Allow your public defense attorney the chance to meet with you first. Keep in mind public defense attorneys carry significant caseloads and sometimes spend most, if not all, of their day in court.
  • Communicate. Tell your attorney you are frustrated. It is difficult for people to correct a problem they do not know about. In addition to calling your attorney, if you can you should email them as well. Often attorneys can respond to emails but not make calls, for example, when they are in court.
  • Get support. There may be unknown reasons your attorney is busy, for example, weeklong trials, vacations or personal issues. Let us know when you have difficulty reaching your attorney so we can support you. Contact us by email at 
  • How do I file a complaint? Only the individual represented by a public defense attorney may file complaint with the Department of Public Defense. We do not accept complaints from others. To file a complaint:
  • Send the complaint in writing. Provide details about the problem. Include copies of all prior communications you sent to your attorney about the problem. Include the attorney’s name, the court the case is filed with, the cause or case number(s), your legal name, your mailing address, your phone number, and your email address (if you have one). You may send the complaint via email or US mail to the Department of Public Defense at:

            Email address:

            Subject: Complaint

US mailing address:
Department of Public Defense

Attention: Complaints
100 W Broadway, Suite #1
Montesano, WA  98563

What happens after I file a complaint? The Department of Public Defense will investigate your complaint. This may include reviewing court notes, speaking with judges, or contacting you for further information. We will provide the complaint to your attorney and the attorney will be required to provide a written response. We will provide you with a written notice of our findings, our determination, and a copy of the response provided by your attorney. Actions taken against your attorney are private.  The possible determinations are:

Unfounded concern: This means the facts as presented do not constitute a valid complaint about the representation provided by your public defense attorney; or there is a dispute between you and your public defense attorney as to the facts, and there is no sufficient evidence supporting your complaint by which to take action against your public defense attorney. 

Founded and minor concern: This usually means the substance of the complaint is not severe, the conduct complained about was not intentional, and/or the public defense attorney has not previously been warned about this conduct.

Founded and serious concern: This usually means the substance of the complaint is severe, such as intentional inappropriate conduct, malpractice, and/or conduct bringing the attorney’s honesty into question.

I want a new public defense attorney. Filing a complaint with the Department of Public Defense will not achieve this. Only the court has the authority to substitute attorneys after the case has been assigned. The only way to accomplish this is to first notify the Department of Public Defense & your attorney of the date you intend to make the request, typically your next hearing date. Be prepared to detail the reasons you believe you need a new attorney. You may want to bring a written statement to read to the court. The court seldom agrees to provide a new attorney unless you state a valid basis for your request.  Contact the Department of Public Defense with any questions.