Friday, November 16, 2012

Judicial Council: Fund indigent defense, rationalize court fees, give judiciary more money

Texas Lawyer's TexParte Blog provided a link to 10 resolutions (pdf) to the Legislature from the Texas Judicial Council, several of which merit highlighting. (See below the jump.)

On juvenile justice, the council recommended reducing reliance on Class C tickets to make criminal courts the last and not the first resort in school discipline. A lot of heavy hitters are interested in that topic headed into session.

The council wants defendants to be obligated for fines and court costs if their period of community supervision ends without their having fully paid it. I suppose those cases will eventually end up with some collections vendor.

The council called for legislation to have court costs assessed at the time of conviction instead of based on when the offense is committed. This is pitched as based on ease of calculation, and I'm sure that's true, but it's also true that since fees operate on a one-way upward ratchet, the later in time they're calculated the higher they will be.

The council wants a single effective date for new court costs and fees to avoid confusion during implementation every two years. That's reasonable.

The council wants a standardized fee set for "compliance dismissals" in traffic court; e.g., when a person charged with driving with an expired license gets their license renewed and has the case dismissed. Presently the fee ranges from $0 to $20, depending on the court, and the council suggested a $20 minimum fee. In practice that amounts to a fee increase in many cases.

They requested an interim study in between the 83rd and 84th sessions on consolidating criminal court fees. Hear, hear!

They endorsed Jim Bethke's request from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to a) authorize spending an unexpended balance in their account that the Lege is using for budget balancing trickery, and b) pay up to $70 million more to counties to "Close the 'unfunded' gap that is being borne by counties for the additional indigent defense costs that they have incurred due to the mandates of the Fair Defense Act of 2001." With Justice Wallace Jefferson's endorsement along with Judge Sharon Keller's (she chairs the Indigent Defense Commission), the Presiding Judges of Texas two highest courts have now endorsed Bethke's bold funding request. Well done.

The council wants the state to create a new fee and use it to fund creation of an e-filing system for the appellate courts. I agree the state should fund e-filing. I'm sick of the cowardly way we critique overuse of fees that now, says the Council, we need to study "consolidating" while simultaneously creating more new, atomic fees to fund narrow infrastructure needs. That's an unsustainable model that's reached the limits in a large number of cases of defendants' ability to pay. I'd rather the state just pony up and pay what it cost to run the courts.


Anonymous said...

How do I get a topic posted to this?

Prison Doc said...

Never have understood why this should receive funding. Hospitals and doctors have to provide indigent care without any hope of compensation and with the added benefit of being liable for lawsuits. Seems like our professional brethren of the bar should be similarly generous, whether on the bench or at counsel's table.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers aren't the reason for the expenses Prison Doc, litigants are.


Anonymous said...

Since 90% of the criminal's income is undeclared, we only know about the 10% that is legal enough for them to declare. Bases on that, we make ourselves believe that they are indigent. Maybe some are, but what about the pimp? Lots of money crosses his hands, but none of it is declared. What about the career burglar? We don't know how much he receives from his fence, do we? Does the fence declare any of his income? What about the drug dealer? I guess there is no money in drugs these days. You can supply the other examples.

So we listen to the progressive who assures us that criminals really don't have any money. We fall for this. If they counted only 10% of our income, we would all be considered indigent, wouldn't we? Even those who are absolutely rolling (praise the Lord!) in undeclared loot are allowed to appropriate even more of our money for their legal defense. Money that we worked hard for.

I guess it would take a blogger to defend something as phony as this.

dallasdemented said...

Prison Doc: Doctors and hospitals are paid for their services to indigents (through cost-shifting to their insured and wealthy patients). Only about 30% of criminal defendants are non-indigents, so it is much more difficult for cost-shifting to occur (especially if government reimbursement for indigent representation were lowered or eliminated). While there is no guarantee that increased reimbursement would increase the quality of representation delivered, it at least holds that promise and was the very basis of the 2001 reform.

benbshaw said...

Texans seem to like "hidden" taxes assessed via fees, rather than out-front methods of funding state government. Fees are user taxes that are not based on ability to pay, but are instituted on the theory that the only the user of a particular governmental service should pay for it. This type of thinking is why we will be nickle and dimed by tolls on our state's new highways for the next 50 years.

Our court system is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, including the right to a lawyer that your anonymous commenters are grousing about. This right was applied to the states by the famous case of Gideon v. Wainwright. The current system of indigent defense doesn't meet constitutional standards. If the authoritarians on the U.S. Supreme Court such as Scalia, Alito, and Thomas were doing their jobs, they would have mandated a public defender system by now in all the states like Texas who currently use the court-appointed system of placing recent law school graduates in charge of defending indigents. For those who say indigents are not declaring their illicit income in order to get a free ride of a lawyer to defend them, then they are more likely to be convicted as the average District Attorney and his/her staff will usually win over the typical court-appointed attorney.

RAS said...

If you are innocent it can cost you everything you own to prove it. Maybe the state should be required to reimburse those found innocent.

Anonymous said...

"The council wants defendants to be obligated for fines and court costs if their period of community supervision ends without their having fully paid it. I suppose those cases will eventually end up with some collections vendor."

Isn't that what private collection vendors are already currenlty doing?

schrodinger said...

Private collection... pffft! I saw how that worked when the City of Dallas had a private contractor handling animal registrations. I had 2 elderly cats that died during that time. My cats have always been up on their required vaccines and registrations. However, I got multiple notices and threats of criminal action if I didn't register my cats. I replied and indicated that the cats were deceased. In fact, one cat passed away outdoors and was picked up by the city before I ever knew that she was missing... just a few hours after she went out. She had a registration tag on her collar, yet I was never contacted. I was informed by my neighbor as to what had happened to my cat, and that the city picked up her body. I went immediately to the pound and asked about my cat. They confirmed that she had been picked up and her body "went to the dump". They also confirmed that she had a collar and tag, but couldn't tell me why nobody contacted me. Yet I was harassed over her subsequent registration for 2 years, even after I told the contractors that the CITY had picked the cat up DEAD. Then the second cat passed away of cancer. Again, the threatening notices and scary rhetoric of possible jail and big fines... even after I sent a letter from the veterinarian stating that the cat had been euthanized! (I was the nurse for that vet, so it was my job to send the letter). Only after the agency was eliminated did that nonsense stop. But it went on for a couple of years!! If we can't trust an agency or a private vendor with handling dog and cat tags, how can we entrust them with something of THIS magnitude?