During a recent board meeting in Travis County, a move was approved by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to waive a requirement for a letter that expressed interest in a $15 million grant. This grant would establish a public defenders office in the county for both adult misdemeanor and felony cases. This is something that Travis County has both tried, and failed, to do over the past few decades.
March 11th was the initial deadline to submit the letter itself, but thanks to the unanimous decision from the board an application can now simply be submitted for the grant, which will last for a total of four years. The deadline to apply for this will be May of 2019.
This new extension ends months of fighting over the new public defenders office, and addresses how Travis County could fund the current system of appointed legal representation for all low-income defendants who reside in the county.
The proposed office would end up employing a total of 48 attorneys to handle 30% of all indigent cases. Defense attorneys, on the other hand, claim that the work group put together by Travis County to help shape the new office should also concentrate on reforming the system that is currently in place.
ACDLA, the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association, previously backed out of all public-facing negotiations following a community input session, where attorneys faced backlash by citizens who had been previously incarcerated, as well as local advocates. Local judges also pulled their support for the project as well, claiming that they would not support a system that didn’t have approval from defense attorneys.
However, in a shift, all 15 county and district court judges released a letter prior to the recent meeting stating that they would support a system that would adequately fund both the current system and new public defenders office.
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