Harris County Okays Public Defenders Office

Harris County Commissioners unanimously approve creation of a public defenders office. The move will change the way indigent defendants receive legal representation in the county. Rod Rice reports that an advocate for the change calls it a "big step in the right direction."

State Senator Rodney Ellis has been pushing for a public defender since early last year.

"I think it will save money.  It will do a much better job of assuring that poor people have access to decent legal representation."

Ellis calls the county's current system and international embarrassment. Judges appoint attorney's to take the cases of those to poor to afford a lawyer.

"It's a shame in a lot of ways, where you have the judges appointing people who get the cases, and often times these folks feel beholden to the judge, or not really advocating for their client because they want to get another case."

Harris County is the largest metropolitan area in the country without a public defenders office.

A lot of details still have to be worked out, but the system will be a hybrid one in which judges can still appoint lawyers or use a public defender.  Ellis says public defender supporters need to keep up the pressure even after the systems in place.

"So, we're going to encourage judges to utilize it, to advocate for it, and we're going to encourage people in the media to ask the hard questions of judges who say that they don't want to use this system."

Officials hope a public defenders office will help ease jail overcrowding by easing the backlog of defendants in jail waiting for for trial.

Rod Rice. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...