The Task Force on Indigent Defense (Task Force) has developed a new process for submission of indigent defense plans resulting in a single, uniform, accessible indigent defense plan for each court level in each county that may be amended and searched, said Task Force Director Jim Bethke. The changes were initiated based on internal audit recommendations.
Plan submission instructions will be sent to local judges and other officials when the Web site architecture is complete and tested and plan templates are complete, Bethke said. The Web changes should be in place no later than Oct. 1; indigent defense plans are due Nov. 1.
The Texas Fair Defense Act enacted by the 77th Texas Legislature created the Task Force on Indigent Defense to assist local governments in improving the delivery of indigent defense services by disbursing state funding, providing professional support, and monitoring performance. Annual submission of expenditure reports showing the amount of funds spent on indigent defense and biannual submission of countywide plans, which must meet statewide standards, must be submitted to the Office of Court Administration every odd numbered year by Nov. 1.
Submission changes include the following:
Indigent defense plans will be broken down into required sections (e.g. prompt magistration, indigence determination standards) and submitted electronically.
Previously counties and judges have been able to submit plans in any format and order desired; the internal auditor found this practice leads to inefficient access to and review of plans.
Each of the plan sections will be accompanied by a checklist of required elements. The statutes and rules that underlie each section will also be posted for reference purposes. Sample template language for each section will be provided to judges as part of the submission process. Depending on the section, the language will be tailored for different-sized counties and by type of system (e.g. over 250,000 population and rotation system). The text will be posted on the Web site adjacent to the respective section’s text submission boxes so that it can be used in whole or part during the submission process. Model documents previously promulgated by the Task Force will also be included.
In the past, the Task Force has only provided sample language and forms in limited circumstances such as model attorney fee vouchers.
Judges will be able to amend the plan at any time by changing the language for the appropriate section of the plan. The replaced section will then be automatically archived with a notation of when it was amended and by whom. The archived section will be available to prevent data loss.
Currently, archiving must be done manually, and prior documents are not automatically archived when new documents are submitted.
Plans will be consistently named so that there will be no more than three plans per county (felony, misdemeanor, juvenile). Judges covering multiple counties will also be able to submit a single plan covering all the counties, if desired.
Currently many counties have multiple plan documents on file, often including contradictory statements.
Plans will be displayed by section or in their entirety. They will also be searchable by section, rather than the search taking the user to a list of plan documents on file for the counties meeting the demographic criteria set. This will allow local officials, staff and researchers to focus on only those parts of the plans they are currently interested in reviewing. For example, this change will allow a judge to find the attorney qualification requirements in the plans of similarly sized counties in the judge’s region.
Points of Interest
Local judges will not be required to adopt plan template language as their plan. Judges may continue to use their existing plans. The only requirement is that they be broken down into sections and submitted electronically.
Staff from the Task Force and legal interns will be available to assist local officials in the submission process.
The Task Force has also adopted the following new rules:
Grant administration rules, which may be viewed at http://info.sos.state.tx.us/pls/pub/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=5&ti=1&pt=8&ch=173&sch=A&rl=Y.
Policy-monitoring rules, which may be viewed at http://info.sos.state.tx.us/pls/pub/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=5&ti=1&pt=8&ch=174&sch=C.
For more information, contact Task Force staff at 512-936-6994 or 866-499-0656, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.