Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Evidence for the Feasibility of Public Defender Offices in Texas

While over at the website of the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, I noticed a new study published last month that, as far as I know, has gotten little public play:
According to these data, public defender offices would definitely be feasible in many parts of Texas, and would be particularly cost effective for handling misdemeanors.

In 2005, according to the report (page 4), the average misdemeanor case handled by a public defender cost taxpayers $119, while the average misdemeanor handled by a private attorney cost $155. On felonies the average costs were closer, but still leaned in the PDs favor: Felony cases handled by PDs in Texas averaged $433 per case, compared to $471 for private attorneys.

Not much, is it? Especially when you consider what attorneys charge private clients. This is a nifty little report by the task force; I might blog more from it later.


John D. McLauchlan said...

Of course, I enjoyed the part where it suggests longevity pay and aligning PD salaries closer to those of prosecutors as possible mechanisms to attract and retain the "best and brightest legal advocates."

elvez1975 said...

I imagine you'ld have quite a fight on your hands if you advocated a state-wide PD. The defense bar will throw a fit and put all their weight behind fighting such a move. But I think it's something that the State should and can (at least from a feasability standpoint) do.

From what I've seen, there's a lot of bad criminal defense lawyers out there and a lot of them take appointments. A PD's office in every county would weed out a lot of this piss-poor representation, improving the quality of criminal defense all around.

I wouldn't hold your breath though. Seems like most counties can't even do a good job of assessing indigence (resulting in endless court settings for indigent defendants), so I doubt we'll see any reform on this measure any time soon.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

elvez, I wouldn't expect anybody to seriously push for a statewide PD bill, but many Texas counties have recently created them with success, at least if you define success as achieving goals of reducing attorney costs and jail overcrowding and quickening the process to move through large dockets. If the state continues to pony up seed money with grants, I'd expect more quite a few more counties to pursue this option, but certainly not all of them.

elvez1975 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
elvez1975 said...

I suppose it's just that I don't have the patience to wait that long. I have worked in two other states, both with state wide PD coverage, and in my limited experience, the quality of representation was heads and shoulders above some of the folks in the local criminal defense bar.

It's hard to get excited about baby steps when giant leaps are called for. But wait we must....