On Tuesday, the Travis County commissioners voted to accept more than $717,500 in state grant funding in order to establish a private defender’s office — a nonprofit organization that would provide pro bono legal defense to indigent defendants. Additionally, the office would have the task of determining whether or not certain attorneys are competent in order to ensure that defendants receive the best representation possible. Currently, Travis County has a public defender’s office for mental health and juvenile cases. But a private defender’s office for adult criminal cases would correct many of the issues in the current indigent defense system; many of these problems stem from judicial power to decide which attorneys are adequate to represent poor defendants.
The American Bar Association, in its “Ten Principles for Public Defense Delivery System,” states that a successful indigent defense system is completely independent from the judiciary. Despite this recommendation, Travis County’s list of appointed attorneys has been managed almost exclusively by judges. After the Texas Fair Defense Act was implemented in 2001, Travis County judges did have to submit to more administrative barriers that prevented cronyism and conflicts of interest. For example, a judge could no longer simply give out cases exclusively to lawyers who donated to their campaigns. Despite weakened power of the judiciary, judges cannot adequately assess an attorney’s performance based on what they see in the courtroom.
Andrea Marsh, founder of the Texas Fair Defense Project, told us, “Judges only see the lawyer in court, and a lot of work that lawyers do happens outside of the courtroom.” A private defender’s office led by several committees of practicing and retired judges and attorneys would use a managed assigned counsel (MAC) program to not only screen and supervise attorneys, but the program also includes mentorship and training so that lawyers are constantly improving. The Travis County commissioners’ decision shows a step in the right direction toward a more efficient court system as well as a respect for the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel.
Davis is an associate editor.
A very busy week on the opinion pages.
We've got an elaboration from associate editor Noah M. Horwitz on his blog post on the arrest of the football players for sexual assault.
The editorial board has also weighed in on Gov. Rick Perry's decision to send National Guard troops to the border.
In our last installment of the Postcards from Abroad series, columnist Jan Ross Piedad explores the idea of interconnectedness.
And from guest columnist Jauzey Imam, a look at a recent Palestine solidarity protest here in Austin.
Brands is editor-in-chief.
Last evening, state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, shared a photo on her Facebook account of her holding an oversized fountain drink from Whataburger. "There's no place like home... the home of Whataburger, that is," she said, standing in Corpus Christi, where Whataburger opened its first location in 1950.
Despite the obvious problems with using corporate branding in a campaign (Whataburger proudly serves both Democrats and Republicans, and thus opted out of endorsing in the gubernatorial election), Davis caught a great deal of flak for sharing the image, namely from her own party. Many expressed concern that debate on the real topics facing Texas is being defenestrated in favor of meaningless fodder.
First things first: I think one picture of the state senator holding a cup from a restaurant that holds a very special place in my heart is a somewhat venial offense. But even if it was some type of bold shift in tone from the campaign, heading away from substance and toward personal connections, would that necessarily be a bad thing?
As a confessed political nerd, few things would make me happier in the leadup to an election than turning on my television and listening to the respective candidates' platforms being meticulously delineated and defended on air. But the world just doesn't work that way. Most people have much better things to do with their lives than care about the game of thrones, so to speak, in such excruciating detail. They want to know how a candidate is human, what he or she does for fun, and about the candidate's family. Davis' inclination toward Whataburger — whether staged or sincere — is an invaluable way of establishing a connection with the average Texan.
It struck a chord with me, and I know it did with many of my usually atypical friends. Ideally, it did for countless others as well.
Horwitz is an associate editor.