This is encouraging.
Commissioners Court is expected Tuesday to approve a study of whether Harris County should create a public defenders office.
Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said that after the study is completed, she likely will press colleagues to create the office, an option the court has rejected for more than two decades.
"I am predisposed to support creating a public defender system," Garcia said. "It's long overdue in Harris County."
But Commissioner Steve Radack said, "They can study it, but unless it saves taxpayers' money, then I'm not for it."
Garcia said she likely would push for a hybrid system in which some defendants would be represented by public defenders, some by court-appointed lawyers.
Dallas County has a hybrid system.
According to the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, the county's public defenders office was assigned 41,000 cases last year and handled them at a cost of $214 per case.
The 25,000 cases assigned counsel in Dallas last year cost $493 per case.
Radack said he is convinced that defendants in Harris County receive fair representation from court-appointed lawyers and will look at only whether a public defender system would save money.
But Garcia said the county should study the county's entire criminal justice system and look for ways to thin out adult jails while maintaining public safety.
The county, she said, may find that a public defenders office could cost more than a system that solely relies on court-appointed lawyers.
But a good public defender system may have unexpected cost benefits -- perhaps its lawyers would help more defendants post bail, relieving the county of jail costs, she said.
Garcia said she may be willing to spend additional money to create a good public defenders office if it would help prevent innocent defendants from being convicted.
"It might be part of what the Pledge of Allegiance says: It's justice for all," she said. "A good public defenders system can provide just that: justice for all."
And in a related story, some good news for the county.
State inspectors found no violations during their weeklong inspection of the Harris County Jail system, officials said Friday.
"The facility, the entire complex, was found in compliance," said Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The complete report should be ready next week. Inspectors check all aspects of prisoner care and guard training, as well as cleanliness, fire safety and other building standards. The county was given 10 days notice prior to the inspection.
Previous inspections from 2004 to 2006 found that the county was out of compliance because of crowding and understaffing. The county hired more guards, expanded overtime and sent 600 inmates to a Louisiana prison last year to get back into compliance last May.