Five Counties Secure Discretionary Grant Money
The Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense approved more than $2.5 million in new funding to five Texas counties to improve their indigent defense systems. Programs in Dickens and Lubbock counties will provide direct representation to the poor in rural counties, and improvements to indigent defense processes will be made through programs in Bell, Dallas and Taylor counties. Funding awards were announced in June, and the new programs are set to launch Oct 1.
The burden to provide the legal representation to the poor required by Texas law and the Constitution has historically been left completely to the counties. However, the Texas Fair Defense Act (FDA) enacted by the 77th Texas Legislature created the Task Force on Indigent Defense (Task Force) to assist local governments in improving the delivery of indigent defense services by disbursing state funding, providing professional support, and monitoring performance. Generally speaking, the Task Force awards grant money in the following categories: formula grants, discretionary grants, direct disbursements, extraordinary disbursements, and equalization disbursements (www.courts.state.tx.us/tfid/TFID_Grant_Program.asp.) The recent awards were distributed as discretionary funds.
“The Task Force is appreciative of the hard work demonstrated by the counties in their discretionary grant applications,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen B. Whitley, a member of the Task Force. “I believe the grants we voted to fund…will continue to capitalize on this work and provide cost-effective indigent defense processes and provision of services in Texas counties.”
v Bell County was awarded $397,150 to build a web-based core solution that tracks the county’s compliance with the Fair Defense Act from time of arrest through payment of attorney fee vouchers.
v Dickens County was awarded $566,701 for the Caprock Public Defender Office. Dickens County will host an initiative to improve the region’s delivery of indigent defense services by establishing a public defender office that will provide quality representation to defendants who cannot afford to retain counsel.
v Lubbock County was awarded $1,570,483 to expand the Regional Public Defender Office for Capital Cases, currently operational in the 7th and 9th Administrative Judicial Regions, to the 4th, 5th, and 6th Judicial Regions. The expanded program will provide direct client representation to 140 counties in West Texas and South Texas.
v Taylor County was awarded $14,498 to purchase equipment to develop a multi-county video teleconferencing system with Callahan and Jones counties.
v Dallas County was also awarded $256,773 for videoconferencing. These funds will allow the county to immediately begin to resolve issues between city jails and the Dallas County Jail through the expansion of existing videoconferencing connectivity.
Three other programs, including the Harris County Public Defender Office and mental health initiatives in Montgomery and Tarrant counties, were granted extensions and will be addressed again at a later date.