Singing Loudly: Public Defenders do better than court appointed attorneys

Singing Loudly

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Public Defenders do better than court appointed attorneys

At least in the Federal system, it appears that public defenders do a better job of representing their clients than court appointed attorneys who work on a billable hour system. It's not really surprising that this is the case. It's also not surprising that it's a little cheaper.

In Texas, where I am, there is not a state office of public defenders. It is up to the individual counties to decide if they want to fund a public defender office. Currently there are offices in Bexhar County, otherwise known as San Antonio, (which I believe only do appeals), Travis County (only handles juvenile cases), Dallas County (the largest office of public defenders in Texas), and Wichita County. In addition, there is a very unique to the nation public defenders office that is state supported which handles all legal matters for indigent inmates called State Council for Offenders.

It would be nice if Texas consolidated these into a state system of public defenders and provided for offices that handle all the major metropolitan areas, the inmate system, and provided for rural defense. The Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News have both been publishing numerous stories concerning the need for this. It's simply too expensive and too costly not to do it.

It is expensive in that court appointed attorneys (which, by the way, are still allowed in places like Dallas County because the judges can decide to give cases to their friends and financial supporters instead of using a PD) charge much more than a salaried public defender. It is costly because when there is a clear discrepancy in the quality of service, it is presumed that more innocent people will be imprisoned, longer sentences for guilty people, and longer proceedings take place which all make for a more costly system to tax payers.

It's time for Texas, and other states, to really think about embracing the public defender system.

UPDATE: I inadvertently left off a couple other PDs offices in Texas. Hidalgo County has a PDs office. Also, there is a fairly new PD's office in Kaufman County but it has had some financial problems recently. Finally, Bowie County, in Texarkana, is considering a PDs office.
-x-

2 Comments:

The Bexar Co. PD's office only does appeals, but is expanding to cover some of the counties in the Fourth Court of Appeals' jurisdiction. I think they're also going to expand to do civil commitments.

By Blogger E. McPan, at 6:58 AM, July 16, 2007  

Travis County (Austin metro) also started a new pilot program this year, the Mental Health Public Defender. It's a very small office but could be a model for how a dedicated office can deal with the most difficult clients and cases better than lawyers who have had less experience with the mentally ill.

By Blogger Matthew, at 11:49 AM, July 17, 2007  

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