Monday, November 06, 2006

Kaufman County hires public defender

Counties struggling with rising indigent defense costs and county jails overcrowded with indigent prisoners can look east of Dallas for a solution. Kaufman County just hired a young ex-prosecutor as its new chief public defender. He'll spend the next few weeks setting up shop. Reports the Kaufman Herald ("County names chief public defender," Nov. 6):
“Basically, we're starting from scratch and we've got to get out there and sink or swim. However, I think this could benefit the county and its residents.”

Commissioners are hoping the creation of a public defender's office - which initially will include a chief defender, an assistant defender, an investigator and administrative assistant - will help rein in escalating indigent defense costs.

“Three years ago, our county's indigent defense costs were around $200,000,” [County Judge Wayne] Gent said. “This past year, it was about $1.2 million. It's virtually breaking the county.”

The new office is being funded by a combination of a $182,000 state grant and county monies.

[New Kaufman PD Andrew] Jordan admits he knows the department will be closely scrutinized.

“The commissioners hold the purse strings and, if they don't see a beneficial financial impact, they'll shut us down. That's their fiduciary responsibility.”

Outside of the possible financial implications, Jordan said the public defender's office will play a vital role in the local justice system.

“It's important that everybody - whether they're rich or poor - has access to a quality defense,” Jordan explained. “We want to make sure the rights of all our citizens are protected.”
Public defenders not only reduce indigent defense costs, they help move cases through the system more efficiently for indigent clients. I'm surprised more counties haven't pursued this particular jail overcrowding solution. That conservative Kaufman did so is to the commisioners court's credit. Most of these problems have solutions if counties are willing to be as smart on crime as they have been "tuff." Others should follow suit. The Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense provides grants to help counties get defender offices started.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the public defender salaries are going to be in Kaufman County compared to the assistant district attorneys. Seems Texas hasn't done very well on the parity issue.