Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Travis 'private defender' will lower bottom line of oft-appointed lawyers

Texas Lawyer has a report on Travis County's new indigent defense system (Oct. 9) in which attorney assignments have been outsourced to a nonprofit organization operated by the local criminal defense bar. The project is ramping up now:
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.

"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."
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:
"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.

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."
See prior Grits coverage.


Anonymous said...

It's still subject to plenty of politics. If they ran this kind of system in Harris County, the lawyers in charge would still hand select their buddies for the list.

Anonymous said...

It is expected that only about 80% of the current wheel of appointed attorneys will apply and qualify under the new requirements. This should INCREASE the bottom line of those that remain on the list.

Here are the new requirements:

BTW: The office requirement set off a wave of sub-leasing and office sharing arrangements within the ranks of the younger appointed attorneys. I guess they were only previously meeting clients in jail, rocket docket, jail reduction docket, or PTC settings. It seems unlikely they were meeting appointed clients in a home office. Yikes!

Unknown said...

Thanks for mentioning my article!

We also did a video about criminal-defense lawyers discussing the pros and cons of the new private defender service: