AUSTIN – The Texas Indigent Defense Commission awarded seven new discretionary grants totaling over $1.2 million to help West Texas counties improve public defense services.
Indigent defendants in far West Texas will soon have a new resource. The Commission has awarded a new grant to help five rural counties in far West Texas create a more effective system for providing constitutionally required indigent criminal defense services. The grant is a result of the efforts of District Judge Roy Ferguson, who presides over the 394th Judicial District Court, which encompasses the five counties covered by the grant: Brewster, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, and Presidio Counties. The grant will fund the creation of the Far West Texas Regional Public Defender Office, which will represent indigent defendants in felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile cases. The program will provide effective defense representation while meeting the unique challenges of rural counties covering vast distances and with very tight budgets.
“Very few local lawyers are available to handle indigent defense cases in this part of the state,” said Judge Ferguson. “In two of the five counties, there are no attorneys to accept criminal defense appointments. As a result, I am often forced to appoint lawyers from other jurisdictions who must travel for hours to meet with clients and attend court hearings – all for minimal pay.”
The participating counties have some of the highest poverty rates in Texas, and county budgets are extremely tight. By teaming up in a regional approach, the counties will have a small group of specialized staff attorneys dedicated to indigent defense cases. “Culberson County is thrilled to sponsor the grant,” said Judge Carlos Urias, Culberson County Judge. “This program will provide a huge leap forward in the administration of justice across the entire region.”
According to Judge Ferguson, “The Commission’s grant makes it possible to improve the effectiveness of the system and ensure access to qualified lawyers for all in our community. I am incredibly grateful to the Commission for their encouragement and support as we work to ensure legal representation for all west Texans.”
Another grant to El Paso County will help their Public Defender Office create a dedicated unit to represent defendants with mental illness. “By helping to stabilize these defendants and connect them with community resources, we can reduce unnecessary incarceration and recidivism,” said El Paso County Chief Public Defender Jaime Gandara. “Reduced jail time, good litigation results, and more efficient handling of cases will directly benefit our clients and the community.”
“El Paso County is grateful to have the support of the Commission on providing such a critical service for our community,” said El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez. “This initiative ensures mental health is a top priority for our community, and further, it continues the ongoing investment made by the Commissioners Court to guarantee that residents of our community have access to an efficient and effective criminal justice system.”
Other grants awarded by the Commission on June 29th include:
- grants to Atascosa, Wilson, Henderson, Kaufman and Dallas Counties to implement the TechShare Indigent Defense software system;
- grant to Taylor County to implement an enhanced video teleconferencing system to streamline attorney-client communication.
The Texas Indigent Defense Commission provides financial and technical support to counties to develop and maintain quality, cost-effective indigent defense systems that meet the needs of local communities and the requirements of the Constitution and state law. More information is available at www.tidc.texas.gov.