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Harris County appoints its public defender

Meet Alex Bunin, who was unanimously appointed by Commissioners Court to be the chief of Harris County’s first ever public defender office.

Bunin, 51, set up federal public defender offices in southern Alabama, Vermont and northern New York. He currently runs the Albany and Syracuse offices in New York and teaches at Albany Law School.

“This is really a major project. It’s much bigger than the offices that I’ve run before, a real diversity of issues,” Bunin said. “I think there’s just a lot more opportunity to help people on the ground level in a county office.”

Bunin starts his new job Dec. 6 with a temporary office, no employees and no office equipment. By February, his office is expected to start representing mentally ill indigent defendants facing misdemeanor charges and appeals cases for the indigent.

This is still a pilot project, meaning that if it doesn’t go well – read that as “doesn’t prove to be more cost effective than the current system of judge-appointed public defenders” – Commissioners Court can kill it. The reaction to Bunin’s hiring is positive, with Mark Bennett expressing hope and State Sen. Rodney Ellis releasing a statement (see below) praising the selection. I look forward to seeing what Mr. Bunin can do with this office, and hope for great things.

Today the Harris County Commissioners Court named Alex Bunin as the Chief of the Harris County Public Defender Office. Mr. Bunin was recommended by the 15-member Public Defense Board, which oversees the Public Defender Office. Senator Rodney Ellis released the following statement applauding the appointment:

“Today is a great day for justice in Harris County now that a Chief has been named to run the Harris County Public Defender Office. From all of the great things I have read and heard about Mr. Alex Bunin, I have great faith that he will do a great job representing Harris County citizens who can’t afford a lawyer. The county taxpayers should also reap the rewards of more efficient case processing and fewer unnecessary appeals due to poor trial representation. Mr. Bunin already has experience setting up and managing three federal public defender offices in various parts of the county. I look forward to seeing him bring that expertise to Harris County to make its Public Defender Office a model for counties throughout Texas.

Many people worked hard over the past few years to make the Harris County Public Defender Office a reality. Commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia deserve a lot of credit, as do Judge Jean Hughes, Judge Mike Anderson, and the various court staff who helped develop the plan for the office and the county’s grant proposal. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the great work of Rev. William A. Lawson and the clergy from across Harris County who have tirelessly advocated for the Office, as well as the wonderful work of advocates like the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Texas Fair Defense Project. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to create the Harris County Public Defender.”

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