Monday, July 07, 2008

Texas Lawyer: Dallas Public Defender lacked buffer from political winds

Texas Lawyer published a detailed adumbration of the imbroglio surrounding allegedly politicized firings at the Dallas Public Defender's Office beginning with the chief, Brad Lollar. Those interested should go read the whole thing, but especially interesting to me were suggestions offered toward the end about how other counties might structure PD offices to avoid the same problems with meddling county commissioners:
Lollar and Richard Goemann, director of defender legal services for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, have suggestions for Harris County if it sets up a PD's office.

The problems at the Dallas PD's office "are not unique to Texas," Goemann says. "They are common around the country."

The best way to avoid such political problems is the creation of an independent board to oversee a PD's office and shield it from the governmental body that controls the PD's office budget, he says.

"The idea is to create a diverse body whose allegiance is to the clients of the office," Goemann says.

Lollar says Harris County — Texas' largest — should "have a clear arrangement with the judges that once the PDs are in there, you're going to use them and what cases are they going to get. And there should be an advisory board that stands between the commissioners court and the Public Defender's Office. It could be representatives between the criminal bar and the district judges and the county judges. And it should act as a buffer to politics."


A Voice of Sanity said...

According to a report released by the Dallas County Budget Office, for the six-month period that ended on March 31, indigent defense costs in Dallas County's 17 criminal district courts are fairly uniform — averaging about $342 per case.

That seems disturbing.

Anonymous said...

How much is spent by the DA's office on a per case basis? I feel sure it is far more than $342 per case.

Justice depends on a reasonable balance between prosecution and defense expenditures.

Anonymous said...

This is an issue that needs to be addressed in the next legislative session if anyone in Austin has the stones to tackle it.

Anonymous said...

I once thought it was the judges who were the greatest threat to the independence of a public defender's office because of the way the legislature set up the authorizing statute. How very wrong I was. It's commissioners wanting to micro-manage county agencies who are the greatest threat to the independent defense of the indigent in Texas.