Countering Price's critique, the TFID found the appellate division cost the county $72 per hour of billable work compared to the $100 paid to private attorneys. Local officials countered that they don't pay private attorneys for holidays and said PDs bill more hours per case than private lawyers. Quien sabe?
According to the TFID, the Dallas appellate division handles 60 cases per year per attorney,while the Bexar County appellate division handles 35 per attorney. The number of cases assigned to the Dallas appellate division has been increasing every year, said the report.
TFID also countered recent criticisms of the office by the Dallas County Commissioners Court - in particular Commissioner John Wiley Price - that PD office attorneys are lazy and their caseloads are too low. Reported the News ("State report supports Dallas County public defender division," July 22):
The TFID's report gives the soundest basis I've seen for assessing the credence of claims that the PD office in Dallas provides poor service or costs more than private practitioners. The more pressing question is whether the commissioners court will listen to the Task Force on Indigent Defense ... or to anybody.
The task force’s report also evaluated the public defenders’ caseloads and concluded they would be cost effective even if they handled fewer cases than what county commissioners are requiring.
Mr. Price has said some lawyers in the office are not pulling their weight. Brad Lollar, the former chief public defender, was forced to resign last month because commissioners were unhappy with his management of the office.
Commissioners want public defenders to handle at least 100 misdemeanor cases a month and 40 felony cases per month, the report said. That is three or more times higher than “nationally recommended standards” and substantially higher than caseloads handled by other Texas public defenders, the report said.
“Overloading public defenders can pose a serious threat to the indigent’s right to competent counsel,” the report said.
In Dallas County, public defenders could handle as little as 50 misdemeanor cases a month and 26 felony cases a month and still be cost effective, the report says. That’s because county figures show that the average cost per case for public defenders is lower than for private lawyers.
Mr. Price said he hasn’t read the task force’s report but that his analysis shows that 50 misdemeanor cases a month won’t cut it. Court-appointed lawyers handle more than that, he said.
See related Grits posts:
- Texas Lawyer: Dallas public defender lacked protection from political winds
- Dallas public defender purge raises legal and policy questions
- Cost per case at Dallas Public Defender much lower than private practice
- Rothgery v. John Wiley Price: Move to slash public defender budget couldn't come at worse time
- Dallas public defender budget saves county money compared to neighbors