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Texas County Plans for a Public Defender Office

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Final plans are in the making for Texas residents in Harris County who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.  A $4.1 million grant application has been submited to Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense in plans to develope a public defenders office for adults and juveniles.  If the grants come through, they will provide funding for the offices operations for a year.

How do Public Defender offices work?

The entire public defender system is overlooked by a chief public defender.  From their, the office is further segmented into divisions and headed by a chief and selected assistant pblic defenders, investigators and clerks.  Overseeing the office as a whole would be a coard who is responsible for evaulating the system.    According to Caprice Cosper who is the director at the Office of Criminal Justice Coordination stated that 4 divisiosn are within the plan.  The four hopeful divisions are Misdemeanor Mental Health, Appellate, Felony Trial and Juvenile Trial.

Harris CountySo what would this mean for the future?

This type of established Public Defenders Office will provide a judge the opportunity to appointa private attorney to an indigent (one who cannot afford an attorney) client.  Thusly, a new hybrid system will be born where judges have the choice to select a court-appointed attorney or qualified legal representation from the public defenders office.

So… is this a good idea after all?

Supporters of the public defender office say it will attract top lawyers, have more access to legal resources and be easy for the county to monitor.  Those in favor stand behind the idea that you can potentially higher quality attorneys and access to better investigators.  Some, Such as the 3rd Precinct Commissioner Steve Raddick supports it because it can help those who cannot afford legal representation in Harris County.

Those who appose a public defenders office worry that it could wind up being a similar situation as that found in public defender offices across the nation.  This is a system that easy to bread overworked and underfunded attorneys.  Former president of of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association feels similar stating that “in a perfect world, if you get a public defender system with enough money, it would be fine, but there is always going to be a shortage of money.

Other concerns are that of a power play in which the wealthy are able to hire high-powered attorneys to overpower government lawyers.

It would be interesting to get the take on the issue from Collin County criminal defense attorneys and lawyers from surrounding areas in Texas.

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