Travis County appoints its first chief public defender

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Travis County hired its first chief public defender to represent adults accused of misdemeanor and felony offenses in the county, according to a Travis County press release on Feb. 5.

Travis County decided to create a public defender office after a 2018 study by the Council of State Governments found that low-income defendants were more likely to be given jail time than those represented by an attorney, according to KUT. Before the creation of this office, Travis County was the largest jurisdiction in the United States without an office that represents cases for low-income individuals, according to KUT.

The Travis County Commissioners Court appointed Adeola Ogunkeyede, a former law professor at the University of Virginia, to fill this position. As the chief public defender, Ogunkeyede is responsible for creating a countywide public defender office for Travis County, according to the release.

“Travis County has a deep commitment and goal to improving our current indigent defense,” Travis County spokesperson Hector Nieto said in an email. “By creating the Public Defender Office and hiring this new Chief Public Defender, Travis County is on track to accomplishing that goal.”

The public defender’s office will be funded by a $48 million grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission until April 2024, Nieto said in an email. According to Nieto’s email, the county will fully fund the office at about $8.8 million a year after the grant ends.

Before being hired in Travis County, Ogunkeyede was the legal director for the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program at the University of Virginia’s Legal Aid Justice Center, according to the release. Ogunkeyede also served as the director of staff development at The Bronx Defenders, a criminal and civil justice organization in New York, according to the release.

Sports management junior Tiffany Anderson said Ogunkeyede’s background in civil rights and racial justice will make her a great chief public defender. Anderson is the community engagement chair for the UT Pre-Law Division of The National Black Law Students Association, a student organization that promotes the goals of Black students interested in the law field.

“This office will help the homeless and people of color because oftentimes they’re the ones that are low income and need representation,” Anderson said. “They’re the ones who are primarily in jails because they don’t have this representation.”

Taylor Edwards, president of the association, said an office dedicated to public defense is important because it will provide residents with higher-quality representation.

“I like that they hired a Black woman because probably the majority of the community she will be representing will be Black and brown people,” government senior Edwards said.

Anderson said Ogunkeyede’s background will make her a good public defender. 

“As a Black woman who wants to pursue law, it is great to see another woman of color doing something with her law degree to change lives,” Anderson said.

Editor's note: This story was updated to fix the titles of the Travis Comissioners Court and Taylor Edwards.