Anyone reading this blog over the last week must be left wondering: "So AR, a former defense attorney, gets elected with the support of the defense bar, only to emerge as an even more anti-justice partisan than his predecessor. But why?"
While the endgame is still coming into focus, a substantial clue has just emerged from the fog.
An email leaked to AbelReyna.com details a conversation overheard between Judge Ralph Strother and one June Summers, a citizen watchdog who is concerned about jail overcrowding. Summers allegedly claimed to be a member of a "task force researching the financial benefits of a public defender's office in our county."
A summary of the alleged conversation:
- Summers says that she's met w/ Reyna & got his input on the idea of a public defender's office.
- She says that she asked, at some point, what he thought about opposition from other attorneys, and that he responded, "What opposition?"
- She says that she likes Reyna, but the big problem is him holding cases three months before indictment.
- Summers says that the commissioners are 100% on board w/ this idea and have been since last April.
- She says that the PDO would start w/ grant funding and become self-sustaining after a few years
- She says that she wants Judge Strother to meet with the task force
- Strother opposes the public defender system in McLennan County at this time
For those that don't know, currently McLennan County has an appointed counsel system, where poor defendants are assigned an attorney randomly from the county defense bar. The defense attorney must, according to the law, be paid at a market rate for his services, though this is often less than the rate the attorney would charge on a retained case.
Think about it: everyone knows that a high conviction rate is the mark of a successful "tough on crime" district attorney. So if you were a county DA with a political pedigree and grand designs for state office, how would you improve your conviction rate?
One way would be to push for a defense system that places the budget for indigent defense in the hands of the political class-- which perfectly describes the public defender system. And how might one bring about this goal? By driving up the cost of paying appointed attorneys to the point where "something must be done"-- the means of which would include making outrageous offers that force all criminal defendants to trial.
Perhaps that has been AR's goal all along-- to increase the cost of indigent criminal defense in McLennan County to the point where alternatives to the current appointment system must be considered-- and where such alternatives would hand him and his political cronies on the Commissioners' Court more power.
For those that are doubting the reality of the situation, Waco attorney Joshua Tetens confirms he was interviewed yesterday about his opinion of having a public defender system in McLennan County.
But nevermind all of that. Look forward to the more politically-connected Baylor Law School professors celebrating the merits of a PD system in Waco. Or, perhaps, a leader-- like Judge Strother-- will speak out on behalf of Waco's poor, who would otherwise pay for AR's ambitions with their lives and liberties.
Update: We have received confirmation that June Summers is the same person mentioned in this op-ed. It would be interesting to know who else in on this "task force" and who recruited them.