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Another step forward for a public defender’s office

I’m not sure exactly what this entails, but it’s good to see progress.

Harris County plans to launch a limited public defender office in October if it receives a $4.4 million state grant.

The office would start with 30 people defending the indigent on appeals of felony cases and in misdemeanor cases with mentally ill defendants.

If approved, the state money would cover the cost of the office for the first year and a decreasing share of the costs the following three years. At the same time, the public defender office would expand to take on adult felony defendants and juvenile defendants on its way to becoming a full-service in-house defense firm for local criminal court cases.

Currently, judges appoint lawyers for indigient defendants from a randomly generated list. The county spent $33.8 million last year on court-appointed defense.

The proposed public defender office would not replace the current system, but result in a hybrid, said Caprice Cosper, director of Harris County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

See here, here, and here for some background. I don’t know what state funds are being applied for or what the criteria are for getting them, but I presume the ducks will be in order. There’s an item on tomorrow’s Commissioners Court agenda to deal with it. As you know, I think a public defender’s office is a good idea, and I’m glad to see progress being made on implementing it.

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3 Comments

  1. The Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense is a grant fund ironically chaired by Sharon Keller which has provided startup funds for all the new public defender offices in Texas in the last few years. It’s also the vehicle through which the state funds innocence clinics at state law schools, including at U of H and one launching at Texas Southern.

    They’re good folks over there and are effective promoters of public defender systems. See their website: http://www.courts.state.tx.us/tfid/

  2. [...] the Task Force on Indigent Defense here; my thanks to Scott Henson for leaving a comment in my previous post about them. Here’s hoping the grant application is [...]

  3. Jack holmes says:

    Indigent defense in our state is a complete joke. I have had Friends from out of state laugh at the things we do, like the latest killer Keller debaucle. Do you know what will happen to this Stepford judge, absolutely nothing, and about 20 percent of the public supports what she did ( unless it happens to one of their relatives and then it’s unfair and the system is broken, blah blah). Here is how our wonderful system works:

    1. Place only prosecutors and judges on any commuter to study how to make it better.

    2. Always elect appellate judges who have never tried a criminal case (3rd district).

    3. Be sure to make the atty pay for your clients court clothes with no reimbursement.

    4. Ensure that your state selects it’s criminal judges by the voters. ( they are so much more informed about the ins and outs of the justice system than those actually working in it). This wil also prevent the judges from actually following the law for fear of angering the public and how doing so would look in the paper the next day.
    6. By always cutting the atty fees to a lower number because some other Attys could have finished the case for less money.
    7. By intentionally “holding” on to a large fee voucher in the hope that the atty will cave and accept less just to get paid something.
    8. By intentionally failing to sign fee vouchers before the cutoff date so that the atty has to wait until the next billing cycle, usually 40 days. ( this is not a problem because the Attys creditors understand and will always wait until you recieve payment.
    9. Have the judges always respond to inmate requests for free documents and the drafting of frivolous motions by telling them “I will forward this to your atty.”.

    10. Make sure your judges always allow the inmate to pick and choose an atty of his liking. The court should ensure that those Attys working for the state are weeded out.

    11. Always allow pr bonds on capital murder cases, because the clients cellie had a lawyer who did that, why can’t you?
    12. Judges should never reduce state jail bonds from 50,000 to one where the inmate might actually get out. This will ensure that the jail population remains near capacity and the judge can be instrumental in securing a multiple million bond election for a new jail facility. (with any luck maybe the judges name could be put on a plaque in the lobby so generations of future misfits can see it.
    11. Have judges discontinue the practice of paying interim fees on complex cases. This will force Attys to rush the case to disposition one way or another but still pass an ineffective claim.
    12. When appointing a local committee to find ways to improve the system, do not allow any input from Defense Attys performing the work. This would only confuse and complicate the govt members.
    13. In the case of input on the construction of a new court facility, do not request the input of defense Attys on essential requirements of the building. (I.e. Having a slot installed on or next to the glass window separating the inmate and the atty to pass secret documents like plea papers etc, like in our county where this was somehow overlooked and had to be added on as a punch list item, then going back again and making the slot larger so a dangerous weapon like a pen could be secretly passed to the inmate to sign the outrageous offer).
    14. Jail procedures- have the judges conspire with the jail administration to ensure that when an atty goes to the jail to see multiple clients that they make the atty see one inmate, then stand in line again behind the families and screaming kids of inmates who don’t know the visitation procedures and ask stupid questions while the atty’s brain is slowly being eaten away by an unstoppable jail bacterium specifically placed there by the court to shorten the time spent and pay less.
    15. Make sure the judges always pay an investigator more money per hour than the atty. This will always be in the back of the Attys mind during trial, thus increasing the chances of conviction. This makes good copy.
    16. Re-codify the rules of evidence to two rules: rule 1 – if the state wants it in, it’s admissible. 2. If the state wants it out, it’s inadmissible. It’s defacto now, but let’s go ahead and formalize it so future juries can save time and ignore any possible legal defense. Doing this will complete the circuit already known by juries.

    Hope this helps

    5.

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