The "high profile murder case" likely carries the death penalty as a possible punishment. In WA, only qualified attorney may be appointed as public defenders in capital cases. In WA, there are only a few attorneys who qualify to serve in capital cases.
While indigent defendants in criminal cases have the constitutional right to be represented by an attorney, the defendants do not have a choice in who will be the appointed attorney. Unless the appointed attorney is not doing what a competent attorney would do, the judge likely will not be appointing a new attorney. Your friend can always ask for a new attorney.
"pro bono" generally means "free". A capital case likely will take several years. Why would someone want to work for free all those years?
The U.S. Constitution and all U.S. State Constitutions that I know of contain a provision which requires the federal government or the state to provide a lawyer for someone without money, to represent them in a case where jail time is a possible outcome. Typically, the person must have qualified to handle a murder case. I am finding out recently, that the qualification process is extensive. So, to answer your question, your family friend simply tells the court he wants to apply for court appointed counsel. The Judge will handle things from there. Good luck with this.
[Note: Consistent with Avvo policy, this communication is intended as general information and not specific legal advice, and this communication does not create an attorney-client relationship.]
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You may not be looking in the right places for a "good" lawyer. Many of the private criminal defense counsel that handle murder cases do, in fact, charge a premium for representing those accused because they know the person needs counsel. I would check will other criminal defense lawyers who might be willing to take the case on a lesser fee. You can find criminal defense attorneys on AVVO or through the Washington State Criminal Defense Lawyer Assocation (wacdl.org). Good luck.