Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Spending money to defend our terrible bail practices

Ugh.

HarrisCounty

About $170,000 in tax money has been paid to outside attorneys to defend Harris Country officials from a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the bail bond system discriminates against poor people, records show.

That’s more than the cost of a six-month pilot project that would have provided attorneys for indigent misdemeanor offenders at bond hearings – a proposed reform critics say could have helped the county avert being sued in the first place, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Chronicle through public information requests.

[…]

The rising legal fees are not unusually high for outside counsel on a complex lawsuit, officials said. And outside lawyers may be necessary since the individual county leaders being sued – including judges and the sheriff – have publicly disagreed about how to reform the system, said Robert Schuwerk, a legal ethicist and author who is a retired University of Houston law professor. But county officials should have discussed those fees in advance and should have known from the first that if they pushed to litigate instead of reach a compromise that costs would escalate, he said.

“We may have a division of interests – it may be that the judges are saying no expense is too high for another branch to pay – the judges are not having to come up with the legal fees, I assume,” Schuwerk said. Even though an outside firm might be needed, Schuwerk said the county attorney’s own staff might also have better insight into the players and knowledge of the court system needed to reach a less costly settlement.

Critics, like state Sen. Rodney Ellis, argue that the county attorney should have handled the case himself and the money could have been better spent fixing the broken bail system.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy to spend taxpayers’ money in such a wasteful way,” Ellis said. “The county attorney is very capable and can adequately represent the position of the county in this matter. There is a certain irony in judges wanting to have their own lawyers to represent them as they refuse to provide legal representation to people who are charged with a crime with our criminal justice system.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t have a problem in general with outside counsel being hired to handle litigation involving government entities. The County Attorney’s office has only so many employees, and they all have other responsibilities that could be adversely affected by spending the time needed to handle a lawsuit like this. And yes, the Sheriff and the DA and the judges may all have differing interests in this case. But you know what would solve this problem once and for all, and at minimal cost? Settling the lawsuit, which by the way would have the ancillary effect of saving the county a bunch of money in jail costs, not to mention keeping a lot of non-criminals out of jail. I don’t care who represents the county as long as we get that done. The Press has more.

Related Posts:

Comments are closed.