Indigent defendants facing incarceration in Bexar County are entitled to have their defense paid by the county.Grits has discussed public defender systems at length, but here's Piatt's shorthand description of a possible private defender system:
Recently, costs to taxpayers have grown dramatically. Between 2004 and 2010, indigent felony cases increased by 37 percent while defense costs increased by 46 percent. Indigent misdemeanor filings increased during this period by only 6 percent and the defense costs increased by 45 percent. Direct costs of indigent defense rose from $6.2 million in 2002 to $9.1 million in 2004, and to $13.3 million in 2010. Indirect costs added 33 percent.
Currently, attorneys are supposed to be appointed by judges at random off a computer generated “wheel.” The system doesn't always work that way. A judge having to make appointments at a docket is only given five names on the list, even if more attorneys are needed. Or, recognizing that a particular attorney in the courtroom at the time might be better able to serve the needs of the client and court, the judge will appoint that attorney even though he/she is not next on the “wheel” or perhaps not even on the “wheel.” There is nothing sinister about this. Judges need to protect the interests of the clients and the state and move cases along.
Last year, Commissioners Court appointed a seven-person Bexar County Task Force on Indigent Defense that met through April. We reviewed extensive data and considered the pros and cons of improvements to the wheel and alternatives. Suggestions to improve technology passed unanimously. Recommendations to explore two important alternatives to the “wheel,” a public defender system, and a private defender system, passed on a 5-2 vote.
A private defender system could be modeled after the highly successful San Mateo County, California Private Defender Program (PDP), in place since 1969. Participating attorneys, not the county, pay to maintain their own offices and practices. When a judge determines that an indigent needs an attorney, the judge appoints the PDP, which assigns the case to one of its private attorneys. If a conflict develops, the PDP assigns another attorney from its list. The chairman of the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense has described this PDP as being perhaps the best indigent defense system in the country. Bexar County would not need to reinvent the wheel (pardon the pun). Manuals, forms and the like are in place not only in San Mateo County, but in West Texas in Lubbock County, as well.