Seeking to strengthen its bid for state funding to open a public defender office, Harris County has changed its application to ask for less money and to propose public defenders in more courtrooms.
If the state Task Force on Indigent Defense approves the county's request for $4.1 million on Aug. 25, the county will launch a hybrid system of a public defender and court-appointed attorneys in February. The county's indigent defendants currently are represented by court-appointed attorneys selected from a pool of private practitioners.
Today, Commissioners Court will consider reducing the amount of grant money sought from $4.4 million to $4.1 million in response to concerns from the Task Force that the county was not covering enough of the administrative costs of running an office. It also will consider authorizing the county's purchasing agent to start looking for a chief public defender to run the office.
The county's previous version of the application received criticism from academics, local ministers, defense advocacy groups and the local state senator who authored the law authorizing the creation of public defender offices in Texas counties. Among the criticisms were that not enough judges planned to participate, that the office would not serve high-level felony defendants and that the office was subject to control by the judiciary and Commissioners Court.
Originally, 11 of 22 district court judges had volunteered to use a public defender on felony trial cases and only three agreed to the new office's use on appellate cases. Now, 20 judges have bought in on felony trials and 18 on appeals.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
'Harris County sweetens public defender proposal'
The title of this post is the headline to a Houston Chronicle article published yesterday bringing news that Harris County has altered its proposal for a public defender office to include more courts after the Task Force on Indigent Defense balked at funding a more limited plan: