Robert C. Boruchowitz

Robert C. Boruchowitz

Professor from Practice and Director of the Defender Initiative

 Sullivan Hall 119


Email Robert


  • Criminal Procedure
  • Law and the Holocaust
  • Right to Counsel
  • Youth Advocacy


  • B.A., Kenyon College, 1970
  • J.D., Northwestern University, 1973


Robert C. Boruchowitz was an attorney at The Defender Association, a non-profit public defender office in King County, for 33 years. He is leading an initiative at the law school to advance efforts to improve public defense representation for thousands of people in Washington and provide models for application in other states. He has handled appeals at all levels of the state and federal courts and argued the Seling v. Young case in the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the application of Washington’s "sexually violent predator" law. He was lead counsel on a Washington Court of Appeals decision that due process requires that children in truancy proceedings have counsel. Bellevue v. E.S. (2009). That case began in the Youth Advocacy Clinic and two clinic students worked with him on the appeal. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the decision, but many counties reduced the number of truancy filings before that decision.

For 28 years, he served as The Defender Association’s Director. Founding president of the Washington Defender Association and a former member of the Executive Committee of the American Council of Chief Defenders, he has been instrumental in developing defender standards that have been endorsed by the Washington State Bar Association and the American Bar Association. He led a subcommittee that developed both Performance Guidelines for Criminal Defense Representation and Standards for Indigent Defense Services that were adopted by the Washington State Bar Association. On June 15, 2012, the Washington Supreme Court adopted a rule recommended by the WSBA requiring defenders to certify compliance with the WSBA standards as slightly modified by the Court. Professor Boruchowitz is chair of the Standards Committee of the WSBA Council on Public Defense and co-chair of the Workloads Committee for the National Association for Public Defense. He serves on the American Bar Association’s Indigent Defense Advisory Group and is an emeritus member of the Washington Minority and Justice Commission.

Professor Boruchowitz filed a report in a case in New York City that sought an injunction regarding inadequate compensation for assigned counsel. He concluded that there is a “ severe and unacceptably high risk today that children and indigent adults in New York City are receiving inadequate legal representation when they are represented by lawyers being paid $60 or $75 per hour.” On July 25, 2022, the court ordered a preliminary injunction to pay assigned counsel $158 per hour, retroactive to February 2, 2022.

He led a committee that wrote a caseload statement for the ACCD, and served on the State Bar Committee on Public Defense and as vice-chair of the Seattle Mayor's Police Accountability Review Panel. In 2003, he was a Soros Senior Fellow working on access to counsel in misdemeanor and juvenile cases. He speaks frequently at continuing legal education seminars on ethical issues relating to defender caseloads. He spoke at a Symposium on the 45th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright at the Washington Supreme Court Temple of Justice on April 11, 2008.

Professor Boruchowitz was an expert witness in the Hurrell-Harring case in New York that settled, with an agreement by the state to develop caseload standards, provide counsel at all arraignment hearings, and improve the quality of public defense representation in five counties.

Professor Boruchowitz provided an expert witness affidavit in a systemic challenge to the Louisiana Public Defender System that is pending trial.

He was appointed counsel on appeal in State v. K.A.B., 14 Wn. App. 2d 677, 682, 475 P.3d 216, 220 (2020), winning reversal of a juvenile conviction because of ineffective assistance of counsel and an erroneous trial court ruling. The prosecutor agreed to dismiss the case upon remand.

Professor Boruchowitz provided an affidavit in support of a summary judgment motion filed by the Kentucky Public Advocate in a declaratory judgment action involving excessive public defender caseloads. He also provided a declaration in the motion filed by the Miami-Dade Public Defender to withdraw because of the excessive caseload in Florida v. Bowens.

Professor Boruchowitz completed a two-week training for law teachers at the United States Holocaust Museum in 2007. He has taught a seminar on Law and the Holocaust that examines the role of lawyers and judges in responding to the abuse of executive power.

He is leading the Defender Initiative, aimed at providing better representation for people accused of crimes or otherwise facing loss of liberty. The project advances efforts to improve public defense representation for thousands of people in Washington and provide models for application in other states. The first project of the initiative was a joint effort with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to conduct a comprehensive investigation of misdemeanor public defense in the United States. He hosted a conference at the Open Society Institute in New York in May, 2008, and a second conference at Seattle University July 11, 2008.

He co-authored a report, "Minor Crimes, Massive Waste: The Terrible Toll of America's Broken Misdemeanor Courts". Professor Boruchowitz is a member of the Seattle University Consortium of Interdisciplinary Scholars.

The Initiative had a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to work in conjunction with The Sixth Amendment Center to provide assessments and technical assistance to improve public defense services nationally. The grant supported reports on Utah, Mississippi, Illinois, and New Hampshire.

The Initiative received grant funding from the Open Society Foundation to improve access to counsel in misdemeanor courts. The Initiative has worked in Washington, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

The Initiative has held ten Conferences on Public Defense, the most recent one of which was Feb. 28, 2020. The next one is scheduled for March 17, 2023.


"New National Study Can Be a Catalyst for Transformational Change in Public Defense and the Criminal Legal System", King County Bar Bulletin, October 2023.

"A Real Chance to Effect Real Change", Washington State Bar News, April/May 2023.

King County Can Celebrate Strong Public Defense 60 Years after Gideon v. Wainwright", King County Bar Bulletin, March 2023.

The Right to Counsel in New Hampshire: Evaluation of Trial-Level Indigent Defense Representation in Adult Criminal and Juvenile Delinquency Cases,” October 2022.

"Readers respond: Preserve independence of public defense" - Lead author on letter to the editor on the need for independence in public defense in Oregon.

"Protecting the Independence of Public Defenders", Washington State Bar News, June 2022.

"Former Defender Mark Mitshkun Dies at 71”, King County Bar Bulletin, August 2020.

"We Need More Defenders", King County Bar Bulletin, May 2020.

"Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys Coordinate Coronavirus Response", King County Bar Bulletin, April 2020.

Book review on Professor Alexandra Natapoff's "Punishment Without Crime, How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal" the NACDL Champion, published in the May 2019 edition, available at

"The Right to Counsel in Wayne County, Michigan: Evaluation of the State Defender Office of the Metropolitan Justice Center of Southeastern Michigan" (2018)

"Judges Need To Exercise Their Responsibility to Require That Eligible Defendants Have Lawyers", 46 Hofstra Law Review 35 (2017)

"Justice Shortchanged--Assigned Counsel Compensation in Wisconsin", co-author, Sixth Amendment Center, May 2015.

SU Study Assesses Costs of Seeking Death Penalty”, King County Bar Bulletin, March 2015.

"Major Public Defense Changes Postponed", King County Bar Bulletin, January 2015.

"Fifty Years after Gideon: It is Long Past Time to Provide Lawyers for Misdemeanor Defendants Who Cannot Afford to Hire Their Own", Seattle Journal for Social Justice, Vol. 11, Issue 3 (2013).

"Division Autonomy Crucial in Defender Restructuring", co-author, King County Bar Bulletin, October 2013.

"The Right to a Lawyer", Louisville (KY) Courier Journal, March 17, 2013.

"50 years later, fulfilling right to counsel", Everett (WA) Herald, with Bob Ferguson, March 18, 2013.

"50 Years after Gideon v. Wainwright: County Plan Would End Nonprofit Defender Program", King County Bar Bulletin, February 2013.

State Supreme Court Issues Historic Order on Defender Standards", King County Bar Bulletin, September 2012.

"Caseload limits a win for public defenders, clients - and justice", Seattle Times, July 19, 2012.

"Defenders Spread Thin by Budget Crunch", Bar Bulletin, March 2011.

"Diverting and Reclassifying Misdemeanors Could Save $1 Billion per Year: Reducing the Need For and Cost of Appointed Counsel" American Constitution Society, 2010.

"HJR 4220 goes too far in response to tragic Lakewood police murders", op ed with Neil Fox, Tacoma News Tribune October 27, 2010.

"You (might) have a right to a lawyer...", King County Bar Bulletin, July 2010.

On Public Defenders and Excessive Caseloads, July 10, 2010 as a guest blogger for CrimProf Blog, a member of the Law Professor Blogs Network.

"Citizen's Voice: Public defenders underfunded in Tennessee", Knoxville News Sentinel, June 5, 2010.

"The Defender Association Celebrates 40 Years", King County Bar Bulletin, September 2009.

"Minor Crimes, Massive Waste", co-author, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, April 2009.

"At 45, Gideon Right to Counsel Remains Elusive", King County Bar Bulletin, March, 2008. Originally published in the March 2008 issue of the King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin. Reprinted with permission of the King County Bar Association.

"Enough is Enough! Defenders Act on Excessive Caseloads", National Legal Aid & Defender Association, January-April 2008.

"Right to Counsel Remains Threatened in Washington," Washington Bar News, February, 2007.

Op Ed, “Lawyers for juveniles not automatic”, Seattle Post Intelligencer, January 2, 2008.

"Enough is Enough! Defenders Act on Excessive Caseloads", 29 NLADA Cornerstone, Jan-Apr 2008, at 12.

Op Ed, “State has chance to provide equal justice”, January 25, 2006, with Anne Daly.

"How to Deal with the Denial of Counsel in Misdemeanor Cases Post-Shelton", The Advocate, January, 2004.

"The Right to Counsel: Every Accused Person's Right", Washington State Bar News, January, 2004.

Op-ed, "Anniversary of Gideon case spotlights right to court-appointed attorney", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 16, 2003.

"Soapbox", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 5, 2002.

Sexual Predator Law--The Nightmare in the Halls of Justice, 15 University of Puget Sound Law Review 827 (1992).

"Has the Rule of Law Changed?", Seattle-King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin, August, 1991.

Victimless Crimes, 57 JUDICATURE (1973).


In the News

Boruchowitz receives the Innovation in Criminal Justice Education Award
September 25, 2021 | Facebook

Professor from Practice Robert C. Boruchowitz received the Innovation in Criminal Justice Education Award for 2021 from the Seattle U Crime and Justice Research Center.

Misdemeanor Machinery: The Hidden Heart of the American Criminal Justice System