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Public defender’s office gets OK to be studied

It’s a step in the right direction.

Commissioners Court agreed Tuesday to study whether Harris County should create a public defenders office and what kind of program might work.

The court voted 4-0 to instruct Budget Officer Dick Raycraft to conduct the study and report his findings by late September. Commissioner Steve Radack missed most of the meeting, but said he supported studying the issue.


Court members held off on discussing the merits of a public defenders office, saying they wanted to see the results of the study first.

County Judge Ed Emmett said he would support creating the office if it would level the playing field for poor defendants, even if it costs more.

“This is about more than money,” Emmett said. “At the end of the day we have to have the fairest system possible.”

Radack said earlier this week that he would not support the creation of a public defenders office unless it saved the county money.

The county spent about $22 million on court-appointed defense attorneys last year to handle about 52,000 cases in county and district courts, Raycraft said.

We saw Radack’s skepticism last time. I note as well that he didn’t say he’d support it if it saved the county money, just that he wouldn’t unless it did. That may be reading too much into what he said, but I haven’t seen a pledge from Radack to go along if the study is favorable, and I’m not going to put words in his mouth. Far as I’m concerned, he’s still got room to weasel out if he wants to. Which would be low of him, but not a flipflop.

Raycraft said he plans to set up a panel that would include representatives from the courts, community groups and the county to help with the study and hammer out some recommendations for the court.

“We’re going to make sure there’s public input, there’s no question about that,” he said.

I hope this includes public hearings as well. The more open discussion there is about this, the better.

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One Comment

  1. Charles Hixon says:

    Since Commissioners Court sets policy through budgets for law enforcement, courts, jails, the County Attorney and District Attrorney, a Public Defenders office administred through Commissioners Court would be a conflict of interest and ripe for corruption. It would be a puppet organization opening the door to greater civil unrest.

    A Public Defenders office run by the State of Texas could provide fairer results without as much conflict of interest and possibility for corruption. The administrative structure might be similar to how the HCAD is run except through the AG’s office. Possibly other structure but still through the State of Texas would also work.

    Harris County would fund the Public Defenders office run by the State of Texas through fees charged to the County by the State.

    Corruption might still exist, but it would have to pass through more parties, such as the lobbiests the County hires to influence State policies, and corruption would become more visible sooner, better preserving the rights of the citizen.

    This setup would also be a check in the system, challenging County agencies and County elected officials to do a better job.