It took the new public defender’s office just one day to get a man who had been sitting in jail for more than a month released.That's exactly the type of circumstance where it makes economic and public safety sense for giving more indigent defendants earlier access to attorneys and personal bonds, and a great reason for counties to pursue creating or expanding public defender offices. They lower indigent defense costs, reduce jail overcrowding and provide a more consistent quality of defense for indigent clients. In Kaufman,
“There was no way he was going to make bond,” Andrew Jordan, the office’s director said. “The prosecutor, judge and I without a hearing agreed to release him on personal recognizance bond.”
The man, jailed for a misdemeanor, was costing the county as much as $40 a day to feed and house.
The county received a $190,000 grant from the state Task Force on Indigent Defense in the fall to set up the public defender’s office. The grant continues in smaller amounts for the next three years.The office was made possible with a grant from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense. Under the terms of the grant, defendants must be seen by a public defender within 24 hours of arrest.
The office’s goal is to dispose of cases for poor defendants more quickly, making sure they are treated fairly and saving the county money.
Mr. Jordan said he is pleased with the office’s success. In the first full month of operation, he and the office’s other attorney, have been able to dispose of 150 cases. Eighty were released, either on bond or to other jurisdictions. Several cases were given to court-appointed lawyers and several could not be released or moved for technical reasons.
“We’re about a month ahead of where I thought we’d be,” Mr. Jordan said.
The county, led by District Judge Howard Tygrett, applied for the grant because officials were alarmed by the steeply increasing costs of indigent defense. Last year, it rose to $1.3 million.
Instead of poor defendants being appointed attorneys from a list, many will be represented by the public defenders office. They are payed a flat salary rather than by the hour for the casework.