According to the Waco Trib, Commissioner Lester Gibson is the driving force for a public defender system on the County Commissioners' Court.
This sentence alone should give the reader ample evidence of Gibson's awareness of the issue:
Under the plan backed by Gibson, the county would have applied for a state grant to create a public defender’s office starting with two attorneys, one to handle misdemeanor and felony cases and the other to serve defendants with mental illnesses.
That's right. Under Gibson's plan, all indigent defense-- which comprises 40% of misdemeanors and 70% of felonies in statewide averages-- would be handled in McLennan County by three defense attorneys.
There is even a state commission running around Texas with pocketfuls of money setting up new pubic defender offices. Wesley Shackelford, a deputy director of this commission, attempted to support the idea with a fiscal argument to the Trib, but actually pointed out the biggest danger with a PD's office: political control over the funding.
Wesley Shackelford, deputy director and special counsel to the state commission, said counties aren’t required to staff a public defender’s office at the same level as a district attorney’s office because their caseloads are different.
...And thus the argument for cutting the PD's funding is laid out before the office is even opened. As Kurt Cobain once said, "It's not paranoia if they're really after you"...
No one knows yet exactly where else this "recent push" for a PD office is coming from, or who else is on June Summers' lobbying bandwagon. But it is interesting that they have direct personal access to both Judge Strother and the McLennan County Commissioners. Thankfully the criminal judges and County Judge Scott Felton are not easily swayed by the madness of crowds:
But to apply, Gibson needed a letter of support from a judge affected by the program, and all were against it, Strother said.
“We have a very capable defense bar here,” Strother said. “I just don’t think it’s necessary.”
Defense attorneys must meet certain criteria to qualify for the county’s appointment list, and tougher standards apply depending on the severity of the crime. To get felony case appointments, attorneys must have completed at least eight hours of continuing education in the prior year.
Phil Martinez chimed in as well:
“The people we have in our organization are good, competent attorneys who can handle the cases,” said Martinez, one of 91 defense lawyers on the county’s current appointment list for indigent clients.
He acknowledged defense attorneys have a financial stake in the issue, because they receive income from court appointments. But his main objection to a public defender’s office is about quality, he said.
“With a public defender’s office, you might get people coming out of law school who may not have the same level of experience or background,” he said.
However, indigent county residents shouldn't breathe too easily just yet. The article also states that Gibson could have applied for funding for a PD office in McLennan county with the support of only one judge. This issue is far from dead-- stay tuned.