SPOKANE — A lawsuit has been filed against Asotin County and its commissioners in federal court over a former public defender who allegedly was not licensed in the state of Washington when he handled cases in Superior Court.
According to court documents, Calvin J. Hines is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a jury trial at the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington in Spokane. He is represented by attorneys Alan Baker and Jonathan D. Hally, of Lewiston.
The complaint was filed because the defendants “knowingly and intentionally” violated Hines’ civil rights to the assistance of effective counsel by appointing attorney Robert Van Idour to represent him on felony charges in 2017.
Van Idour, who no longer works in Asotin County, represented clients who could not afford an attorney. The lawsuit alleges he was unqualified at the time of his employment.
Hines was reportedly advised by Van Idour to enter guilty pleas, and was subsequently sentenced to prison on two felonies — second-degree theft and trafficking in stolen property. The guilty pleas saved the county on trial expenses, but violated Hines’ civil rights, according to court documents.
The county had a constitutional duty to provide indigent defendants with proper counsel and due process, the lawsuit alleges, according to the court documents.
Hines alleges the county and its board of commissioners were aware the public defender did not meet the minimum qualifications to handle indigent defense in Asotin County. Because he was not a member in good standing with the Washington State Bar Association, Van Idour was less likely to take cases to trial and more inclined to resolve cases by having defendants plead guilty to crimes charged, which was a cost-saving measure for Asotin County, the lawsuit alleges.
In addition, the property that was reportedly stolen by Hines was valued at less than $750 and should have been charged as a misdemeanor, according to the complaint. The court’s file included law enforcement records that listed the total market value of two reported stolen items as $80. Hines was accused of pawning the items in Lewiston, which constituted a “viable jurisdictional defense” against the felony charged in Asotin County, his attorneys said.
Hines is seeking a jury trial for damages, along with punitive damages and the cost of attorneys’ fees.
Because it is a pending legal action, an Asotin County official declined to comment on Monday. The county’s legal team and insurance carrier will be notified as soon as the paperwork is served, and a response will be filed in federal court.
Sandaine may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.