The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More Grits, Mmmmmm

A few days ago I e-mailed Scots over at Grits for Breakfast asking for his take on this Express-News article about the persistent overcrowding problem we have here at the Bexar County jail. In response he wrote an amazing blog post giving me a whole heck of alot of background and links that I have still yet to full get through (but I promise I will Scott!).

Yesterday, he answered my question as to why we don't have a public defender's office here in Bexar County:

The answer is because Bexar judges and county commissioners court can't agree, but County Judge Nelson Wolff wants to go in that direction, at least according to a couple of clips forwarded to me on the topic by San Antonio Express News writer Elizabeth Allen.

It turns out Bexar County last year did establish an appellate public defenders office using state grants, but the new agency doesn't handle indigent cases on the front end, which would better serve to reduce jail overcrowding and help more people. Bexar's appellate PD began over the summer. (SA Express News, 7-19-05)

Before Bexar expands to a full-blown PDs office, though, local officials will have to quit squabbling. Reported Allen in the San Antonio Express News (5-22-05), "commissioners and district judges [were] locked in a dispute over who will control a new office for public defenders."

Bottom line: Bexar judges appear not to want the county commissioners court to run an independent public defenders office. Under the terms of a state grant, the money is distributed to a committee made up of three judges, a lawyer, and three county commissioners representatives. Commissioners wanted to appoint an agency head to run the show, while a judge on the committee opined, "I don't know that they need day-to-day supervision by anyone."

This is a turf war: Without a PDs office, individual trial judges make decisions about indigent defense appointments, including pay, so their recalcitrance likely stems from not wanting to lose control.

Ah yes, a turf war. Then again, isn't everything that happens over at Bexar County Commissioner's Court a turf war? Here's to hoping we get a Public Defender's office soon. Oh and don't forget to read the comments over at Scott's. There's a great one by a Public Defender who has seen firsthand what can happen when the Public Defender's office is not an independent one.