An attorney is a constitutional right, but court-appointed defense attorneys have a tarnished history. Thanks to a sizeable grant from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, Lubbock County is moving forward with a restructuring of its public defender program, The Texas Lawyer reports. The task force recently voted to disperse $21.2 million in grants to a number of counties to encourage new approaches to the indigent defense problem, Lubbock County among them. The current framework of judge-appointed counsel can be problematic, as judges are required to remain impartial, and cannot get involved if they suspect that an attorney is inadequately representing his or her client (a frequent problem).
The new system will implement a regional public defender’s office, designed to serve multiple surrounding counties. The attorney in charge of the office will evaluate cases, and appoint legal counsel from within the office. David Slayton, director of Lubbock County court administration said, “We’re hopeful that [the new program] will lead to an improvement in the quality [of indigent defense]…It takes a lot of administrative burden off the judges.” This model allows for a head attorney to supervise and oversee the efforts of the appointed lawyers much better than a judge could.
Lubbock County hopes to have the new office in full operation by January 2012. The task force is very excited about the program’s potential, and it is hoping the new Lubbock office will serve as an example for other counties in the state. Several counties are already receiving funds to implement electronic filing, teleconferencing, and public defender training in order to improve the quality of indigent defense and to reduce costs down the road.
– Henry Joel SimmonsResearch Fellow, Center for Effective Justice