An Indigent Defense Task force from Austin met with the Lubbock board of judges on Friday and a courtroom full of defense lawyers. They discussed the possibility of creating a Public Defense Office down at the courthouse. It would be somewhat similar to the District Attorneys office.
That means for those 70 defense attorneys who take indigent cases, would not get paid by the county anymore. But defense attorneys say, it is not about the money, it is about providing adequate representation for the indigent.
Last fiscal year, Lubbock County paid for more than 5,000 indigents to have court appointed attorneys. According to reports, the amount the county paid for indigent court expenses was more than $2 million. County Judge Tom Head says that is too much to pay. "Right now, it's real tight this year especially with state cuts," said Judge Head.
The county has an opportunity to create a separate Public Defense Office aside from the DA's office. The PDO would have a small group of 10 defense attorneys on the county's budget working full time.
Members of a task force on indigent defense from Austin says this could be a way for the county to cut those court expenses. Because the county would then qualify for a portion of the $1.7 million the state has set aside for counties wanting to create APDO. However, the 39 defense attorneys that attended the meeting are not quite sure this is the right thing to do for Lubbock county.
"I don't think the money is going to be there to pay people very well. So you're going to get people straight out of law school with no experience," says Head. But there's a consensus between every group that attended. No one is quite sure how much would the county save by creating a p-d-o. "It's a matter of using our money the wisest way we can. We want to make sure."
By law, each Texas county is required to pay for indigent defense. Lubbock county pays $75 an hour for attorneys who volunteer their services for the indigent. That's not including the extra fees some of these attorneys have to tack on to the county's bill. The deadline to apply for this grant is in October, the board of judges plan to have some kind of plan soon.