Commissioners Approve PD Study

Today Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved the creation by the County’s Management Services Department of a study and recommendation on the feasibility of establishing a Public Defender’s Office in Harris County.

If the study reveals that a PD’s Office will provide a cost savings over the current ad hoc appointment system (Grits agrees with me that it will), the PD’s Office is likely to start small, providing trial lawyers to two or three of Harris County’s 22 felony courts (I’ve heard that Susan Brown of the 185th District Court and Marc Carter of the 228th District Court are interested).


0 responses to “Commissioners Approve PD Study”

  1. Does the creation of a PD system seem likely to you to cause a class divide between those defense lawyers who work privately and those who elect to join the PDs office? Does such a divide exist in other cities which have PDs?

  2. Collin,

    Not likely in Harris County. Other than the class divide between hired lawyers and court-appointed lawyers, the class divide between ex-prosecutors and never-prosecutors, and the class divide between “letter lawyers” and non-“letter lawyers”, we’ve got no time for class divides in the criminal defense bar.

  3. Some people think establishing a p.d’s office will solve all their problems. Like you, most p.d’s are heroes of mine but not all offices are created equally and I have gathered a lot of horror stories along the way, not because p.d’s office are bad but because they’re human.

    Like a lot of government-run institutions, they tend to attract the best as well as the worst, so a good p.d. office requires a good leader, good training and promotion of the right people to create an atmosphere where the right kind of behavior is rewarded.

    I saw Barry Scheck wrote an op ed in the Chronicle and I wanted to respond that while a p.d.s office might be a good thing, if it’s not implemented correctly it can pervert what Gideon v. Wainright was designed to accomplish.

    For example, in Douglas County court in Omaha, the indigency inquiry in almost all cases consists of one question: Do you want to hire an attorney or would you like a free one appointed?

    Guess what? Most pick “b.” But the better question is, why do judges ask it this way? Why is the p.d. appointment encouraged and why are there some p.d.’s who try many cases and “push hard” while there are others who haven’t filed a motion to suppress in years?

    If you don’t encourage the former, you tend to end up with the latter and very few Barry Schecks end up roaming the hallways.

    So it isn’t enough to start a p.d. office. You have to create a good one and remember that simply because many p.d.’s are heroes, the offices aren’t immune from the excesses and inefficiencies of other government-run agencies.

  4. David, I agree with you, generally. Defending people is not on the short list of things that government is competent to do. But government creates the need for indigent defenders, and the potential problems you cite in a PD jurisdiction are just as prevalent, if not more prevalent, in a place with ad hoc appointment of indigent defenders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.