From Oct. 10 to Oct. 24, Davis said attorneys who are now on the list to accept indigent-defense appointments must reapply to land spots—based on qualifications and experience—on the private defender service's lists. For example, there will be lists for felonies, misdemeanors, appeals, mental health cases and Spanish-speaking cases.Some local attorneys, though - the ones receiving the lion's share of appointments under the old system, are displeased that the new approach will reduce their incomes:
"As an indigent defendant comes into the system by arrest we have a wheel or rotational system to select attorneys," [executive director Ira] Davis said. "It's a random process, but it's a random process among qualified attorneys."
"The next year or so is going to be very difficult because there are going to be some growing pains. There are some lawyers who have been receiving court appointments in a disproportionate share who are going to be hurt by this financially, so there is a significant amount of pushback from the lawyers who see their bottom line being harmed by this system," said Judge David Wahlberg of the 167th Criminal District Court in Austin.See prior Grits coverage.
Defense lawyers who take indigent-defense appointments contacted by Texas Lawyer declined to comment on the change.
Wahlberg said the service would eventually provide a "tremendous benefit" to the criminal-justice system by giving defendants better representation and making them more confident in their court-appointed lawyers. He explained that when a client sees a judge handling payment for his lawyer, the client might question his lawyer's independence.
"If there is not an actual influence there, there's at least a perceived influence," Wahlberg explained. "Trying to ameliorate that problem is maybe the biggest benefit of this."