Travis County
Texas

Agenda Item
21228

Consider and take appropriate action regarding Indigent Legal Services (ILS) Work Group membership. (Judge Eckhardt)

Information

Department:CC Agenda requestSponsors:
Category:General Government

Meeting History

Feb 12, 2019 9:00 AM Video Commissioners Court Voting Session
draft Draft

Members of the Court heard from:

Roger Jefferies, County Executive, JPS

Amanda Woog, Executive Director, Texas Fair Defense Project

John Woodley, Travis County resident

Michael Watson, Principal, Law Offices of Michael Watson

Camille Fenton, Law Student, University of Texas at Austin

Madison Haverson, Law Student, University of Texas at Austin

George Lobb, President, Austin Defense Coalition

Krista Chacona, Board Member, Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (ACDLA)

Dominic Selvera, Attorney, Selvera & Parre LLC

Bob Libal, Executive Director, Grassroots Leadership

Gerry Morris, Principal, Law Office of E.G. Morris

Adam Alvarez, Principal, Law Office of Adam Alvarez

Rhiannon Hamam, Principal, Law Office of Rhiannon Hamam

Jennifer Kraber, Assistant County Attorney

Judith Bohr, Principal, Law Office of Judith Bohr

James Clark, Principal, Law Office of James Clark

Chris Harris, Data Analyst and Campaigns Coordinator, Grassroots Leadership

Paul Quinzi, Principal, Law Offices of Paul Quinzi

RESULT:DISCUSSED

Transcript

Feb 12, 2019 9:00 AMVideo (Windows Media) MP4 VideoCommissioners CourtVoting Session

 
1:36 PMGood afternoon and welcome back to the travis county voting session of February 12, 2019. Before we reconvene as the commissioners court, we will convene as the bee cave road district to take up a couple of items. The first is agenda item number 2, which is authorize the county treasurer to invest county funds.
So moved.
Second.
We have a motion and a second by Commissioner Daugherty, seconded by Commissioner Gomez. All those in favor? That passes unanimously. Commissioner Travillion and Commissioner Shea temporarily off the dais. And approve the minutes.
So moved.
Second.
We've got a motion by Commissioner Daugherty, seconded by Commissioner Gomez. All in favor? That passes unanimously. Also with two members temporarily off the dais.

1:37 PMThe commissioners court. We have a handful of items for this afternoon, most of which are in executive session, but we'll start out with agenda item number 12. Agenda item number 12 is to consider and take appropriate action regarding indigent legal services work group membership. And Mr. Jeffries, if you could come and give us an update and sort of some form for our discussion for this afternoon.
Good afternoon. i'm roger jeffries here with kimberly pierce and I think amanda is going to be joining us who is chair of the indigent legal services committee. In fact, here she is. We wanted to give you an update on the activities of the group. As you've seen a lot of letters going back and forth, we wanted to update you on the status of the group as well. I think the way we're going to start out is amanda is going to give an update on meetings so far.
1:38 PMGood afternoon. i'm here as the chair of the ils work group to provide you an update on progress and to answer any questions you might have. As you know, the ils work group was formed in November and we had our first meeting December 10 when I was elected chair. Because of the tight deadline for the letter of intent and grant proposal submissions to tidc which are deliverables, early work has been focused on developing these. However, where to the extent possible our work is also included discussions of reforms to the current system as included in the charge to the work group. On December 17 we formed four subcommittees to divide and delegate work. One was dedicated to questions around formation, another to administration. Another to funding and grant drafting, and the fourth to judicial and community outreach. We have since formed a capds subcommittee. Primary and alternate members participate in these subcommittees and each headed by a chair elected by the folks in the subcommittee. The subsequent work and meetings started on January 7. Just over one month ago. At that meeting our facilitator michael young and I led a brainstorm to come up about the values we wanted to lead our process. And I printed up a hand jut for you all. I'm sorry I didn't get it into a power point. This is just the values that we came up with as a group to ground our process. All feedback from all members made this list. From there we distilled four broad values. Client centered, respects dignity of the whole individual, institutional strength and transparent and accountable. At the same meeting we were visited by paul heaton, economics professor at the pennsylvania university of law school. Paul has spent much of his career researching client outcomes in public defender offices and spoke about potential cost savings from improved indigent defense in travis county. He also provided calculations specific to our jurisdiction. From this first substantive meeting, I worked with county staff michael and work group members to forge a process grounded in values and led by research a the the next meeting the -- as compared to other jurisdictions and funding streams in the justice system including the sheriff's office and prosecutor's office. I know some believe the latter is an apples to orange approach, but there is perspective to be gained when looking at the money spent on policing and prosecuting poor people in contrast to money spent defending them. The group agreed given this context as well as funding in other jurisdictions and what we all know from experience, travis county has historically under funds and presently under funds indigent defense. The subcommittee presented on public culture through a values framework led by the values the group had come up with together. On January 23 we held a slightly shorter meeting where the administration -- January 23, a slightly shorter meeting where the administration subcommittee presented information they had gathered from public defender offices around the country with respect to case composition, caseloads and staffing. There's no one way to build a public defender office, especially one that is centerrd around specific client needs, but seeing the array of approaches or drawbacks was helpful for framing future conversations. That evening we held a listening session for community members to voice experiences of and recommendations for travis county's indigent defense system, which included letters read from people currently in jail. I understand that was a hard meeting for a variety of reasons. The hardest part for me was to hear how members of our community are being disproportionately punished in travis county simply because of how much money they do or do not have and the fear they live are with knowing what severe consequences for such minor offenses such as deportation. It is critical we hear from clients so the charge we were given by commissioners court and the value that we agreed on. Ensuring client centered indigent defense. The following week, January January 28, justine olderman visited the group to offer insight and experience. The bronx defenders pioneered the recent model including cost savings. The session gave us a vision what we could strive for and offered comfort that real change is not easy and will face resistance. I know we will no form the bronx defenders in travis county tomorrow, but we can plant the seed for innovative client centered approaches to indigent defense. Last week we were visited by david hall at texas rio grande legal aid to learn more about him and his organization's experiences starting public defender offices in texas. With a tight deadline, we started diving into the questions we would need for drafting the letter of intent and came to agreement to incorporate tidc case guidelines leaving open the possibility of building in discretion for our chief defender. And i'm pleased to report at last night's meeting, our group passed a draft letter of intent. The letter is very high level, all that is needed at this stage of the grant process to move forward. But with pen now to paper, it gives us the opportunity to bring something to you and work with judges, community members, defense attorneys and others to get feedback for developing a full proposal. Although the seats were empty that had been previously filled by members and the work group, we were happy to welcome a strong showing of individuals from the private defense bar at last night's meeting and over a beer afterwards. I was disappointed by the withdrawal of members from the working group especially because I wish we had the opportunity for more constructive approaches to these concerns. I share responsibility in this. However, since the withdrawal of acdla, i've been craninged by conversations i've had with numerous members of the private defense bar including people on the board about their concerns with the current system and how we can work together on improving the broader system including through the establishment of a public defender office. I hope and believe we can work together on the task at hand, including through the vacant work group positions being filled by the commissioners court with members of the defense bar willing to work towards this shared goal. Thank you.
1:45 PMThank you.
So as amanda mentioned, the group has completed a draft of the letter of intent. Our plan is to bring it to the commissioners court over the next three tuesdays for discussion for your review and discussion. And possibly ask for your vote on March 5, it will be due March 11 so we would have to have it approved by you all by the 5th. As amanda said, the acdla, the austin criminal defense lawyers association, and I think you all received these letters, they did withdraw from this process, which caused the resignation of four of their appointees, steve brand, christie, selena, and paul quincy. And again, I think you all have been on the cc list on those resignation letters. I know some of you have spoken to various members of the acdla. The perspective I got I don't know there is a door open. I did speak to an end casey about the possibility of acdla returning to the group and there were some conditions in his letter. For example, greater participation by the judges, which we can't guarantee that, but I don't know if there is a door open for them to return, but, you know, it would be a great thing if they did.
1:47 PMI mean, I can't speak to the work group, as far as the work group, there is absolutely a door open.
Can I back up one to the progress on the letter of intent? According to the charge, the letter of intent is to be submitted to the county criminal Judge -- to the criminal judges.
That's correct.
So it will go to the criminal judges and then we'll have it become before the commissioners court with their comments?
That's the plan. and they have to sign off on it for us to be able to submit it or even bring it to you for approval. So sometime between now and the 5th, we need their approval.
I did speak with deborah hill last week and told her that we would be drafting a letter of intent and from there she and I were going to schedule a meeting with Judge Kennedy.
That would be great. my understanding is the judges meet weekly. Correct?
I think they meet monthly.
Maybe so. you're probably right. So we should see when that meeting is because we want to make sure that we hit it right. My understanding is that the judges would like to stand unified, which is to say have unanymore tight deadline on moving forward on a letter of intent to increase the probabilities of a well embraced public defender's office. As you can imagine, going forward without unanimity of the judges could be -- would drastically reduce the probabilities of success. So anyway, that was my backup to the letter of intent and you can get that on the agenda of the commissioners court and we'll work with the judges in terms of their timing. We've gotten the update on the resignations so far. How should we -- what's the greatest probability of success in the way we might invite acdla back into the working group?
1:49 PMWell, I think we had a -- somewhat of a discussion about that last night. For example, one of the things brought up was are there things that could be part of the proposal to tidc that might spark interest by the acdla and capds. They can't pay for salaries or increments in their payments, but there might be some technologies or other things they May have an interest in that could be part of this proposal that goes with the public defender office. I don't know that we landed on anything yesterday, but that is certainly a possibility.
For purposes of the letter of intent, from what we've seen from our drafts of letters of intent that have gone through tcdic, we basically built a pretty high level language to support to the broader defense community including capds such as training and mentorship programs but not limited to build in the possibility for creative thinking around what that might look like.
1:50 PMAnd I certainly don't want to speak for acdla, but if the group was able to get the judges to support the letter of intent, I don't know if that would be enough to meet their criteria around judges' involvement, but that certainly might be a way that they May rethink their participation.
Although we're in a bit of a catch 22 there because I know some hesitation from the judges is the -- what they see is lack of support from the private defense bar through the acdla. Resignations. So --
Also what's on the table, the charter, the bylaws in the charter for the project call for us to come back to you if any of the members of the committe resign and ask you to name replacements. So again we have four that had been appointed by the acdla. My understanding at least at this point they are not prepared to name any replacements representing that organization, but there are four vacancies currently on the committee.
1:51 PMWould the commissioners court like to make a decision on that today or do you want to take a week to explore options? What's the feel of the commissioners court? Of course, we can parking lot this discussion. We have a number of people signed up as well at this point I think we have about eight. Yes.
Well, I have not been following this as closely, i've been out sick for the last three and a half weeks, but it concerns me if two of the major entities that we envision participating have completely withdrawn, being the judges and the criminal defense lawyers association. And I realize that we are up against a clock on trying to develop a proposal to submit for -- is it state or federal funding?
1:52 PMState.
But if the judges have to sign it or support it, I mean it just seems to me like the process itself May need to be re-examined to figure out how to get what seemed to me to be key parties reengaged. I don't know how we best do that, but this seems like we've got some structural problems that May make it difficult to proceed.
I do think that -- just from communications I had most recently with deborah hail, all doors are certainly not closed from the judges and we are scheduling meetings now that we actually have a draft letter of intent so we have something to discuss, meetings that the out reach committee was having earlier were very preliminary because we didn't actually have anything on paper to show to them. I don't think that as a group the judges are completely withdrawn at this point. That's not the indication that i've gotten. On the other community that you mentioned, sometimes it's hard to know certainly an association purports to speak on behalf of the full mep ship, but there are also members of an organization who are willing to serve. So i'm not sure, I obviously can't speak for that community, but i'm not sure how unified it is. And I do know there are prominent members of the defense bar who are willing and eager to serve on this work group.
1:53 PMHow about -- how about this. There's been a tremendous amount of effort put in by the individuals who did volunteer for this and I don't want to -- I want to show appropriate gratitude as well as to the greatest extent possible utilize the results so far. But i'd like to do, and i'm just throwing it out there, what I would like to do is go ahead and submit the draft letter of intent to the judges for their feedback and hold off on any decision with regard to these vacancies in representation by the defense bar. I -- i'm grateful for those in the defense community who have written me and said that they would be willing to serve in their individual capacity, and that is one option. Something that concerns me about that is that's a lot like having -- we always like to have the association represented at the table when we're making decisions about a job class that we have huge influence over. Similar to having the sheriff's associations at the table when we were talking about their interests or having afscme at the table when we're talking about rank and file employees. In addition to employees who are representing themselves individually. So what I would like to do is -- is wait the week to get some feedback from the judges with regard to the draft and also work some more on the relationship with the defense bar and the concerns with moving forward on what I viewed and still do view as a braided charge. That it is the -- the cumulative and interrelated effects of a public defenders office, managed assigned counsel and structure for the private assigned counsel. That it is a three-legged stool, you can't just concentrate on one leg at a% time, otherwise we will exacerbate the in equities in the system. We've heard loud and clear, I believe universally, if we just concentrate on one leg of that school, we will perpetuate and possibly even worsen the in equities in the system that we're currently seeing.
1:56 PMI would tend to agree that if we give it a little time to gel, talk to folks within each group, that taking a week would give us good opportunity to see, you know, how we can move forward to craft a path forward. So I agree that a week would be good.
I'm not seeing -- and it's quite possible I missed it, but did you all send us a copy of the draft letter of intent?
It will be in your backup next week.
I thought you were recommending we go ahead and forward that to the judges and I would like to he sue it before we make any decision on it.
1:57 PMI would very much like to see it as well, I haven't yet seen it yet either, but i'm really just referring to the project charter that says that one of the deliverables is a draft letter of intent by February 8. We're a little past that but not much. And that that draft letter of intent would be submitted to the judges. Ultimately it has to come back to us because it's a grant, but we did have an agreement, a standing agreement with the judges appropriately so that we wouldn't go forward with a grant that they weren't in favor of.
That sounds about right. send the letter and give them an opportunity to look at it and comment. And meantime we can move on other things that, you know, might need to get done.
There still are two other very meaningful charges which is the managed assigned counsel and the reformed pay structure for privately assigned attorneys. So we have the deliverable at least for now on the letter of intent. The next deliverable with regard to public defender is performance metrics, I believe. Is that correct?
1:58 PMYes. you are looking at the charter, yes.
And that's not due until the April time frame and assumes that the letter of intent is -- is submitted to go after the grant. We do have a number of people signed up to speak. I do want to provide some time for those folks. There are about eight individuals. I'd like to limit the remarks to three minutes so that we can move through them. And then if there are questions from the commissioners court to those who are providing comment, that certainly won't count toward your three minutes. Is that an all right procedure for you all? Do you all feel good about that? Okay, then i'm gooding to take them in the order that they signed up as I know them to have signed up. I could be wrong about this, but I believe john woodly signed up this morning. So he would be the first. Hello, Mr. Woodly. i'm going to call several names so we can go ahead and populate the seats. And then Mr. Watson, michael watson. And camille fenton. Madison haverson. I'm sorry if I mispronounced that. And we'll start there. Good morning -- or good afternoon.
1:59 PMHello, i'm john woodly. i'm an advocate for disability access. And I would like to let you know that I have a deaf person who was arrested and he did not have an interpreter during his arrest. He was handcuffed behind his back. He wasn't a threat to anyone. Which is the same as gagging them when they are deaf. Because then they can't even write notes and stuff or communicate. He was held in jail for two days without an interpreter. And so i'm very concerned about those type of things when these people need to get a defender to help defend them. So I can't talk about the specifics of the case, but I just wanted to let you know about some of those incidents that do happen. I would also like to let you know that I would like to see the right representation be expanded from just the criminal side into the civil side for housing access. Because -- some other cities like new york, philadelphia, new york started the right to representation for housing to prevent homelessness. And in 2013 and in 2017 they implemented it into full law and they expanded it. And some of the studies and reports that have been coming out show that these cities are able to spend, like, $4 million to represent these people and they are saving $47 million by keeping people in the housing. And so I would like to see better representation across the board for people with disabilities and indigent.
2:02 PMThank you so much, a thank you for your advocacy. Your consistent advocacy for communities with disabilities. The next person signed up was Mr. Watson.
Yes, my name is michael watson. I'm a local criminal defense attorney. Been practicing for over 11 years. Started right out of law school in rosswell, new mexico as a public defender there, then moved to dallas and then burnet county when burnet county opened its public defenders office in 2012.
2:03 PMBurnet county?
That public defender's office is still going today. Then I moved over here to austin to private practice in 2015, joined caps, been on the a panel since then, working as a mentor attorney working in the mentor group working trying to improve some younger attorneys from progress from the misdemeanor panel up to the a panel. I just want to state I wanted to support the implementation of a public defender's office here in travis county. Fully support the award group and quality indigent representation. It's something that's very important, near and dear to my heart. My support of public defender has nothing to do what I think of caps. I think caps is a great organization. I work with them side by side every day when i've requested a investigators, requested an expert, every time but maybe once have I been granted that expert or been granted that investigator from day one. They are there to support if you have any questions, everybody in that staff has been very helpful. And I think I gist want to recognize the work that they do. However, I do feel that their fundamental fault, fundamental structural flaws in the caps program. For example, when you are in a trial and the d. A. Is sitting right there, they have an appellate section. They send an email out and they get case law, they get -- learn how to fight cases, learn how to deal with specific issues in trial that we don't have access to. As individual attorneys, we don't have an appellate section. Most of us can't even afford a lexus nexus account or west law research because it's so cost prohibitive for a single attorney to have. You send out an email to the d. A. 's office for support, you're going to get 20 d. A. S sitting in their section supporting them. It's difficult to round up everybody dealing with their own private business, trying to deal with their clients to make that sacrifice to come down and support you. I believe with the public defender's office, you are going to have that idea of camaraderie where everybody is together. You are going to have people be able to sit down and -- [buzzer sounding] -- support everybody, and this is a difficult thing that we do. We have difficult issues, we have difficult situations. And the support that you give when you have a public defender office is something that's hard to quantify.
2:06 PMWe've hit the three minutes, but I imagine there will be questions for you. Commissioners, questions for Mr. Watson?
I do. in burnet county, michael, does the public defender's office handle all of the cases or do they have court appointed attorneys as well.
So we abide by the aba guidelines, and so we have -- there are two felony attorneys, one misdemeanor attorney, and we have one investigator on staff. Or they have one investigating on staff and once they hit that limit, there's a certain limit per attorney that they can take, then the assigned cases go to the local criminal defense bar. But they handle felonies, misdemeanors and juveniles.
Other questions for Mr. Watson? I have a couple. I really appreciate your willingness to participate in this, and ms. Wood had also sent an email suggesting your willingness to participate. I very much appreciate it. I am -- at the outset, I want to frame up the questions i'm about to ask. I have everybody in this room and those who May be watching knows i'm a huge proponent of the public defender office in travis county and have been for some time. We are in a unique moment where we May be able to make an investment in that direction. So please do not take any of my questions as -- as a lack of commitment toward a public defender's office. I'm sorry that I even have to make that disclaimer, but I feel that I do. The burnet county docket is significantly smaller than the travis county docket, wouldn't you say?
2:07 PMYes.
And the defense community that works inside burnet county, probably all those lawyers know each other, wouldn't you say?
2:08 PMCorrect.
So it's a little bit of a different animal over there, but i'm very grateful burnet county has a pd. They probably would have to in order to get sufficient capacity for defense in burnet county, wouldn't you say?
Yes. they would go to the lowest bidder.
Reporter: so my understanding from the market perspective is oftentimes texas rio grande legal aid provides that contracted assistance in the more rural counties such as burnet.
That I do not know. I moved from dallas down to burnet. When we implemented the public defender's office on January 1, 2012.
I used to work for texas rio grande legal aid and their managing attorney for the south texas region is like a brother to me so I have knowledge there. They are great. Bill, I adore him. Really i'm just asking your opinion here just because it's useful to me just to have you here. I watched the videotape of the -- of the indigent legal services work group's meetings. And again, i'm very grateful to the people who are willing to serve. One thing that jumped out at me is, as I said before, a need to address sort of this three-legged stool because I believe that there is some very legitimate concern that a public defender's office, if we don't also address the private defenders will exaggerate an inequity in travis county. Would you agree that's a legitimate concern?
2:09 PMOf course. I think you want to be able to equally represent everybody at the highest quality. So you don't want to exasperate any quality, you don't want somebody to say get lucky they got one group as opposed to getting the other. But I think the idea behind a public defender's office is lift -- lift everybody up. High tide raises all the boats. That's my opinion.
2:10 PMI think that's true if we could wave a wand and have a full-blown public defender's office with excellent attorneys day one that carries a significant caseload. Since that's not possible, i'm going to throw out -- i'm going to throw out an idea that is just an idea. Because i'm looking for a way -- i'm looking for a way to yes, to move us forward. We're facing the possibility of a 2. 5% revenue cap. We tried to consolidate the district attorney and the county attorney's office, which would have saved some money, not a lot, I totally agree, but it would have avoided some costs in the future. We weren't successful in doing that. So i'm trying to find a way to both invest more deeply to compensate the private defense bar and bring up a public defenders office simultaneously because I think that we need to bring them up simultaneously otherwise we go -- so what would be your thoughts and I know i'm catching you cold. What if we grew a public defender's office in a discreet area of criminal, say misdemeanor or dwi or pocs? So that we could address it in a -- along with our private defense bar pay structure simultaneously?
2:12 PMI'm not really sure how to answer that. Obviously I haven't thought more inclined to have everything that the public defenders office incorporate all the offices, but the idea being you are trying to not only help indigent defense, but improve the level of representation, trying to grow the younger attorneys. Trying to grow the older attorneys. Everybody is trying to improve. And I think if you get caught like just handling dwis, it becomes a specified branch and you only start handling dwis and only looking at dwi -as opposed to to --
I agree that's definitely the preferred way. What i'm faced with is I only have so many resources in a year and i'm just here to tell you all the likelihood of being able to put a $20 million investment this year in both raising the pay structure and bringing on a public defender's office is not fiscally doable. So i'm looking to growth both in a way that is an investment today and a continuing investment. But we'll come back to that. There's no reason that you have to solve that problem right there as you sit there. I didn't mean to put out the spot.
2:13 PMThat's okay.
Camille fenton and this is madison and we are law students at the university of texas school of law. In conjunction with work that we've been doing in the civil rights clinic at the law school, we've been reviewing and looking into the indigent services work group and we wanted to provide a summary. Tell the commissioners and the audience understand how the process is working and based on our research and everything that we've reviewed thus far, it seems like, you know, the methodology of the working group is sound and that progress is being made. A lot of what I was going to say has been touched on by the -- during the previous presentation. But I wanted to add a couple of things of note. So in terms of the subcommittees being formed to help prepare the grant proposal, it's worth noting among those there's a formation governance of committee, administration, budget grant writing, judicial and community out reach, and so each member of the work group serves on one of these various subcommittees. And then another relevant thing is that in one of the work group sessions there was an analysis and a presentation on sort of on the funding structures in travis county. Based on data gathered from the travis county website and the texas indigent defense commission, the data there showed that the county currently spends $11. 51 per capita on indigent defense and $16. 80 per capita on prosecuting indigent individuals. So yearly travis county spends 12. 2 million on indigent defense compared with 20. 2 million on prosecuting individuals. Under the proposal for travis county indigent defense spending would rise to 18. 4 million, and although that is still 1. 4 million short of true parity it would be a significant increase. These numbers represent the entire amount travis county would spend on indigent defense whether through public defender, capds or both. Then another thing that I wanted to mention was during that consultation with the executive director, she talked about how they've had external studies conducted in the bronze and the work the organization has done and those studies showed pretrial detention and length of incarceration have decreased significantly saving money for the community overall. The organization also tracks client satisfaction and has reported 85% satisfaction among all clients including those who have received any sort of jail or prison sentences.
2:16 PMI agree with all of that. thank you. Yes, ma'am.
Hi, as camille mentioned, i'm also a law student at u. T. I am in no way related to the work group, but I have reviewed all of the videos of the work group and from what I can tell the process has been evidence based and also values based. There are a lot of talk around values and evidence is weaved in every session i've looked at and i've looked at all of them. First I wanted to touch on the formation committee. The formation committee did do an analysis of the benefits and the drawbacks of having the public defender office run either by the county or by a nonprofit agency. That was driven by their values, independence, innovation, community access and trust, and, of course, they focused on salary, benefits and parity as well. The focus here was that the main point is that this is about culture and a client centered culture and that's how you get an independent pd office versus the structure, whether or not it's run by the county or a nonprofit agency. Again, this alliance with the aba's first of the ten principles that a public defense system should be independent including selection, funding and payment of defense counsel. That needs to be independent of the judiciary. They also, of course, talked a lot about salary and benefits as a way to recruit individuals who have the experience and the ability and the capability of carrying out this office. The other thing that I found very interesting was some evidence researched by Dr. Paul heaton, a senior fellow and academic director at the quatron institute. She's an economist by trade and does an analysis on these different criminal justice reform programs, and basically his studies showed, he did this study based off murders in philadelphia and it showed that individuals who are represented by public defenders spent an average of 2. 6 years less in jail than those by appointed counsel with no increased risk of safety to the public. Dr. Heaton did employ some of the travis county numbers, assuming that a public defender office would take on only about 30% of cases and found there could be a significant savings to the county and the state of texas overall. And I do just want to emphasize that all of the videos that I watched, there is a consideration, as you've mentioned, of all of the different legs of this school. Of course, the focus at first is on the pd office only because of the time constraints, but in every session there is talk about the structuring, about caps ds, but assigned counse. Thank you.
2:19 PMLet's go to the next --
Could I ask madison a question?
Sure.
Madison -- and allison?
Camille.
Sense you all watched both or all of the tapings of the meetings, is it your opinion that you can see why acdla has been offended, I mean left, I mean because I think acdla is an association leaving this committee, real to me and i've read everything I can read, it appears that somebody is really either got their feelings really bad hurt or really felt like that they were being attacked, and is that -- did you -- maybe you didn't look at it in that light. Maybe it was just looking for what you all just determined that we think it's a good idea that we've watched, so can you help me with that? Because my opinion is if we can't get acdla involved in this thing, I mean I don't think there's -- personally, I don't think there's a chance to get the judges, unanimity from the judges. And if the judges don't get behind this thing, I think it's a problem. You don't have to opine on that, I was just wanting to know from -- I think you all are real off to the side bystanders. Did you gather any of that? I mean watching that?
2:20 PMYes, sir, I took an objective look at this because i'm not involved in the work group. I think where the hurt feelings you mentioned are potentially coming from is because there's been such a focus on a pd office. That's not the ex exclusion of the other legs, there is a time concern and a grant. So while the focus does seem one sided right now, that doesn't mean the end result is going to be one sided and that might be where the hurt feelings are coming in. I'm speculating of course because i'm not a member, but like I said, everything has been evidence based, everything has been based on the values, all of the group members are constantly asking for feedback, constantly asking for opinions. It appears objectively to be a very open situation and I just think that perhaps it's that focus right now that's the concern.
2:21 PMThank you.
You're welcome.
2:22 PMThe next three people are Mr. Lob, ms. chicona and dominick silvera.
Good afternoon, everybody. I think -- george lob, president of the austin defense coalition, which I think I brought up last time I spoke before you all, but we're distinct and kind of collateral to the austin lawyers association that our goal is protect defense attorneys against corruption in the criminal justice system and thereby protecting our clients' interest. The three topics are back to where a criminal case begins and that's where the police. It's 2019 and we still have bias against race and poverty. And you can ask sally hernandez, the sheriff, this isn't her fault, but 26% of residents, inmates at the travis county correctional complex and about 24% in the travis county jail are black and that is three times what the population of travis county is. And we're all adults, we're sitting here, we can do simple math. That's wrong. It needs to be fixed and needs to start with the police and those who investigate crime. We move on from the police referring cases off to prosecution at the county attorney's office and at the district attorney's office. And there again, this kind of racial and -- racial bias and poverty bias that exists with people who have probably never known profit, it continues with them. So that needs to be fixed. You can take those two points in policing and in prosecution and you could probably save a good chunk of that $8 million gap you have between the $20 million we're spending on prosecuting people and the 12 million you are spending on defending it. Because if you have fewer cases in the many is, you have fewer cases to defend. Let's go further along. I estimate anywhere between 30 and 50% of the time I spend in private practice because I don't take appointed cases, 30 to 50% is spent investigating and litigating cases if it goes to trial, that probably goes up to 70%. Of the cases that I have, the more work that I put into the cases, it seems as though those are the cases that the prosecutors are most likely to dump at the end because essentially i'm doing their job for them. I'm saying no, this witness the police didn't view I want has proof my client wasn't there and there's an affidavit to that effect. Six months later, my client is still in jail and on the morning of trial the prosecution decides to dump it. I could go on and on. In the end, make sure justice is done, not to make sure a conviction is had. My duty is to defend my client. Lastly, if a public defender's office is successful, it needs to be independent, not appointed by anybody in this room, preferably elected so it's responsive to residents and voters of travis county. Acdla is probably not at the table anymore because acdla has interests that is particular to its members who derive financial benefit from the way the system works now. Maybe that's why they oppose it. Sorry.
2:25 PMThe timer has just gone off, but there May be questions. Questions for Mr. Lob?
Mr. Lob, I don't negate the fact that there are 24% in the jail that are black. I have purposely -- because I wanted to really understand this, and I go and ask police officers, you May say, well, police officers are part of the problem, and I take exception to that. I mean I think that there probably are some law enforcement people that probably aren't as good as others and that and there May be some case with that. But we see the reports. I mean, you know, from apd, from tcso, and we do -- or I don't see where there is a bias, you know, in that. I realize -- and you and I can have this discussion, you know, off the dais here, but i'm really concerned about this because I would like there could be something different. But, you know, it does kind of gig me whenever I hear something like that because I don't think most law enforcement people have that kind of bias. I mean I just don't. So it doesn't -- I mean some, probably.
2:26 PMIf I could ask us actually just to manage time and also manage the agenda, we could go very much off the rails with regard to racial disparity and racial profiling with regard to decisions to stop and decisions to arrest. We do have an independent third-party study about that, a very reputable study that has some good things for us to work on. But I don't want to -- that is a very real and important issue, but that's not the one before us right now.
2:27 PMAgreed.
Respectfully, Judge Eckhardt --
I'm sorry, Mr. Lob that is correct is a very important issue, but the issue before us is really about this charge, which May help that problem, but really this agenda item is about this charge and this work group and how to move forward. Because I could sigh us spending the next four hours discussing racial disparity in decisions to arrest -- decisions to stop and decisions to arrest, which frankly are predominantly outside the purview of the commissioners court. So are so, are there other questions for Mr. Lob?
2:28 PMBut the issue still becomes -- this is probably not the forum for that. But as we talk about compiling and making sure that interests are represented -- because, I mean, frankly, some of the problems that we are dealing with, this is at its core.
And i'm just managing time. if we want to address the constituent members of the work group to assure that the interests of -- that's
That's an issue.
That is germane to the agenda item.
How do we make sure, or what gives us the greatest chance to make sure that we have -- that we put a team together that can address some of the blind spots that we know exist.
Mmhmm.
That I do find germane.
Not setting $7,000 bonds for homeless people for trespass.
2:29 PMAgain, i'm talking about the three charges here are public defender's office, managed assigned counsel, and the pay structure for private defense. You are -- I could not agree more that bail procedures are something worthy of discussion, that's just not the agenda item.
As a defense attorney, I am the third to last step before someone goes on probation, to jail, or to prison, or walks out free. So there are a lot of adults -- sane adults, I hope -- in the process before me that create the situation storm that then I have to weather with my client.
Yes.
And so if you want to save money and address the problems that my client and I have to deal with, you've got to go back in time. I'm sure everybody knows the first prisons in the country were build on plantations. This system is based on racial disparity. It continues. We like to say not really.
2:30 PMI agree with your broad statement, really. I'm trying to stick with the agenda item, which is the indigent legal services work group, who's on it, and its charge.
Thank you.
Thank you. next is ms. Tacona.
Thank you, judge, i'm krista, on the acdla board, one of the powfour members of the work group. You invited us to be here and we came. We have made our position clear in the letters -- Judge Lynch sent some letters. We've made it very clear why we withdrew from the group. We're not here to rehash that. I heard the characterization of how the work group went today, and respectfully disagree that that was the experience. I don't want to rehash that. There were a couple things said today that I want to address briefly. One is that ms. Woo often refers to the private defense bar and acdbla. We are the private defense bar, caps is, also. When acdbla fought to become a member of this work group, I thought we made clear that because our membership is so diverse, and there is no real agreement amongst all of us as to whether or not a pd or managed assigned counsel or a hybrid is the appropriate model, we did not take a thumbs-up, thumbs-down position on the pd's office. Our position has remained unchanged that we want the best indigent defense for travis county. That is still our goal. And we appreciate and acknowledge that you have spoken today about the importance of also funding caps. You make clear again today that that is prob probably not going to b fully funded anytime in the future. The mac is going to be around. I appreciate you addressing that and acknowledging that especially lately there's been a lot of conversation about the compensation of the attorneys. And I would agree that a pay increase is necessary not because I need to be incentivized to do my job properly, but because we are professionals. We have a specialized skill set and we do a lot -- most of us do a lot of good work and work very hard for our clients, and we deserve to be compensated appropriately. But I don't want to lose sight of that when we start talking about caps, this isn't just going to be about compensating the attorneys. If you're going to have a pd and a mac, it's not going to solve the problem just to pay the attorneys what they should be paid. They need equal resources. They need more immigration attorneys, more social workers. Right now we have two social workers and one immigration attorney that is serving 180 attorneys. So it's not just about compensation for the attorneys. If we're going to do this. And that was why we came to the table, because we wanted to know -- t dedicating these funds, are you going to give equal resources to a mac.
2:33 PMAre there questions for her?
Do you think that acdla would consider getting back to the table? Because it just appears, you heard me say it earlier, if the association is not there, then it just appears to me that the judges May not get comfortable with this. Do you think that there is a pathway for y'all to get back and say, okay, let us be part of it?
You know, Commissioner Daugherty, the acla board has discussed this for many hours, just as recently as this weekend. I don't think there probably is reis -- with this current work group for a number of reasons, none of which are that we have feelings hurt. You pointed out it was going to be hard to find somebody that wanted to go in because it was obvious from day one that our presence wasn't going to be welcome. The four individuals who volunteered knew what they were getting in for. Your contain contrarian is also a member. It had nothing to do with hurt feelings. From the start the process was working from the conclusion backward and we don't feel that we were being productive.
2:34 PMAny other questions? I have a couple. Ms. Chicona, you heard previously Mr. Watson started the list of the delta between prosecution and defense, appellate section was one that he had mentioned. Lack of access to lexisnexis, I push back on that because travis county does have a very, really good, solid law library that I know a lot of private attorneys both civil and criminal utilize. Does les law still exist? Social workers, yes, the backstop investigative capabilities, immigration expertise, available. These are all things that i'm making a list, because absolutely these are the sorts of things that we need to be working with cap ds to make sure that we have these sorts of resources available to the private defense bar as well as the public defender, if we create one. So let me ask you this, which is similar to what I asked Mr. Watson. do you agree that there is -- and I know the answer to this -- a legitimate concern with a further exacerbating of the inequities in the quality of counsel if we're not mindful going forward with the full three-legged stool? If we just concentrate on public defender?
2:36 PMAbsolutely. and I think that was the very first letter that we sent to y'all when we saw the tidc proposal. We wanted to know, you know, how you were going to justify giving all of those resources to 30% of the population. And actually in the first year, not even 30%, more like 15%, when you weren't going to offer equal resources to c. A. P. S. You know. I think, you know, you often worry about caseload. I'm sorry. The amount of time it takes to dispose of cases, why are cases lingering so long on the dockets. If any cases with immigration consequences, for example, we have the one immigration attorney and sometimes it can take weeks for you to get in to see her to consult with her about whether or not your client can take a certain disposition. So I think if you're not going to give equal resources to both, it's been suggested it's a civil rights violation for the 70% who are being given less resources.
2:37 PMWould you be willing to entertain a public defender's office -- and again, this is an off the cuff idea. But would you be able to entertain a camel's nose under the tent where we would pull up the public defender's office in misdemeanor, or a specific type of prosecution, say, dwi or pocs so that we could bring it up in parity with private indigent defense for that same class of cases?
2:38 PMI think that -- I mean, I would need to see more specific details to be able to say for sure. I only have, you know, the one public defender's office that handles one t type of case to refer to. And I don't think in that case it's effective as it could be. And so I think it would really depend what the cases were. There's been some suggestion that it makes the most sense to give the capital cases to a pd's office, or certain first-degree felonies because they're the most resource-intensive. You're always going to need an investigator. You're always going to need social workers and mitigation. So I think it probably makes more sense with some types of cases than others.
Mmhmm. and then lastly -- and this was a question I didn't put to Mr. Watson, but I think that you are uniquely positioned to answer it. Given the three-legged stool charge of this work group, would you be willing to -- if acdla cannot see a productive way back into this specific work group, would you entertain -- and I don't mean to ask you to speak for all of acdla, but you specifically -- a parallel track, as it were? Because I need -- i've begged before on this issue and i'm going to beg again. [ chuckling ] I need acdla on the issue of pay structure and improvements at cap ds. Any recommendations on those two issues are not actionable without acdla.
2:39 PMWell, and it's interesting that you bring that up, because we had been doing it before. But since we withdrew from the workgroup, that's where our focus has been. And we've had a couple of meetings, both with board members from cap ds and the current directors. Addressing concerns that were raised by the work group, concerns that we had and have been talking about for some time and how acdla could chip in and help, how can we fix these. We submitted some proposals for guidelines for the review committee, because we felt that that was one of our number one concerns. And we could fix something without any additional money. Because we separated the problems into we can fix things without money, but we can only fix these with additional funding. The review committee has those guidelines now. And I think May be using them as they're reviewing the current list of applicants and retention -- r retention. We also submitted to them, sort of, just some ideas -- not necessarily as to what level of offense would get paid hourly. We didn't get into that detail. But just a policy where this is the policy so you know these people are going to be paid hourly. This is what they're going to be paid. We've already started that discussion with them and are hoping to have something in place soon.
2:41 PMMaybe just for the time being -- this out there because we are not going to make any decisions today. But maybe just for the time being I would ask acdla, as an entity, to monitor the good work of the indigent legal services subcommittee. As all on video and posted. And then continue your really good work with regard to recommendations for improvement of managed assigned counsel as well as recommendations with regard to appropriate adjustments in pay scale. And we can continue the conversation even if it's not in the same room for now. I'm just putting that out there in the universe as a possibility.
2:42 PMWe're always happy to contribute our thoughts.
We appreciate that. Mr. Silvera.
My name is dock d dominik, resi of pflugerville, member of acdla. And I want to talk about the people who are most affected by the public defender's office. I don't want us to lose sight of the people who we're supposed to be helping -- the marginalized, the poor, the people without a voice who can't be here to speak on their own behalf. Amidst all the talk of money and structure, what should take place, I think that needs to be at the forefront. We're here to help those people. And I think it's become clear when the numbers have come out on how many clients certain members of c. A. P. S. Take on. My mind was blown when I saw someone taking 300 misdemeanors, 300 felonies. That just seems unsustainable. I think that it is of the utmost importance that we get a public defender's office. It doesn't need to be a 100% pd's office. I think there can be a balance with the managed assigned counsel in a pd's office. But I think it's important that we move in that direction. The talk about money, which I know is important to the commissioners and to travis county -- but what we are trying to guarantee are people's right to counsel. And not just the bare minimum, which has been guaranteed by the supreme court. We should go above and beyond that. And I think after looking through the fiscal year 2018 adopted budget, there are a lot of line items that I would say are less important than someone's right to counsel where we could squeeze some money out of to make sure that people aren't in jail, aren't being left behind. Because jail and a cage is not a place for a human being. That should be the last resort when someone is accused of a crime or is convicted of a crime. And I think that travis county can absolutely do a better job to save money by lowering our county jail population, by changing some of the misdemeanor crimes that are actually prosecuted, although I understand that's an argument for another day. But I think with a billion-dollar budget we can find money to ensure that the people who are overlooked -- that we can protect them when they've been accused of a crime.
2:45 PMQuestions for Mr. Silvera? do you have some specific suggestions for line items where we could find those savings?
So a lot of these -- you'll have to forgive me, i'm not familiar with what they actually pay for. But just right off the bat, the fund for the sheriff's office, 178 million. I think that is way too high. The balcones canyonlands preservation fund, 20 million. And I need to do some work myself to see where all that money goes to. But with a billion-dollar budget, we have to make room for something this important. And I think it's possible. There's no reason why it shouldn't be possible.
2:46 PMThank you so much. we've got three more speakers. Mr. Libel, Mr. Morris, Mr. Alvarez.
Hi, y'all. how are you?
Good afternoon.
I think Mr. Libel was first up.
Thank you, Judge Eckhardt and commissioners. I'm bob libel, executive director of grassroots leadership. I'm going to keep my comments short. I emailed this morning, but I just pat passed out a letter from more than 20 criminal justice reform, immigration, civil rights, reproductive justice and community organizations asking for the continued support of the working group. And i'm not going to go into -- some of the substance of the letter really reiterates what the working group has been doing. And I think we've heard some really good testimony earlier from amanda woog and the students from the civil rights clinic about why the process that was set forward is a good process for our community in determining not only what a public defender's office can and should look like here in travis county, but also how we improve defense across the board. But what I do want to mention is that community organizations, and a broad group of community organizations support this process because it is so important for people who are impacted by the system -- people who are most impacted by the system to be involved in the development of this office, to help develop the culture, to help develop the formation, to help develop what this process and what this public defender's office May look like from the onset. And so we have a really wide group of organizes and individuals who have signed on to this letter. And I think that, you know, as community organizations, we work with -- we understand that there are many stakeholders who have a stake in defense, in public defense in our community. And we believe the directly impacted people need to be not only a part of this conversation, but treated as the experts and key stakeholders that they are in determining what this process looks like. And so our organizations really work on the front lines every day with community members who are impacted by the criminal justice system, whether they're impacted through the collateral consequences of incarceration, whether they're impacted by the immigration consequences of an arrest. And we understand the urgency of moving forward with this process. And so we really hope that the commissioners court will continue to support the charge of the indigent legal services working group. And I think i'll leave it at that.
2:49 PMMr. Morris.
Thank you. i've been practicing law here -- criminal defense law for 41 years. As I recall, this is the third time that there has been a serious discussion of a public defender's office. The first two I was against the public defender's office. At least from my own personal experience, I can tell you that was because I didn't know any better. Since that time, I was president of the national association of criminal defense lawyers a few years ago and was a board member and an officer of the organization for several years. We were heavily involved in the research of public defense delivery systems, evaluation of them, and somewhat in setting them up. And I can tell you unequivocally, I think that the best public defense delivery system is a hybrid system involving a well-funded, well-structured public defender's office and a well-funded, well-resourced private bar. That's easy to say, but how do you pay for it? Let me suggest to you, there are some other funding alternatives that perhaps haven't been discussed here. I know they've been discussed in the working group. One of my favorite organizations --k is a great model -- is the neighborhood defender service of harlem. Greg jones is the executive director. He's a very good friend of mine. They have public funding. They also have a nonprofit organization with a board that raises money. They are funded both privately and publicly. I think you mentioned the property tax camp. I think that's going to squeeze everything. I think that in order to do -- what I believe you want to do, and certainly what i'd like to see -- we would have to look at those alternative funding systems. And I don't know what -- new york city is much different than the landscape here. But I think there are certainly organizations, people who are interested in criminal justice that May be willing to donate some mu money to ha to the effort.
2:52 PMTell me the name again?
The neighborhood defenders service of harlem.
Mr. Morris, you raise a good point. We are doing an experiment in social impact bonding with regard to the homeless. Actually, perhaps a more perfect category in which to do social impact bonding is in the criminal justice context. I know that you're well-versed in the idea that through better defense, you have a high probability of a reduction in pretrial jail bed days, fewer resets, and less convictions, and less lengthy sentencing, which has a considerable cost savings over time. Our conundrum, of course, is the savings don't accrue until down the road. And you still have to make the up-front investment to get the thing going. So I appreciate your acknowledgment of the practical challenge that we have with regard to financing in the upfront. I put the question to you that I put to others. What of bringing up a public defender's office in a context along with modifications to the pay structure so that we can attack it from both ends, the private and the public, in the confines of something that's do-able financially? And I throw it out, the possibility of and the context of misdemeanor or the context of dwi, whether misdemeanor or felony, or in the con context of pocs, or whatever other discrete piece might be landed upon so that we could get the camel's nose under the tent and start making investments in the improvements.
2:54 PMIt would be hard to segregate out a category of offense because so many times people are charged with multiple offenses and that just complicates things to try to figure out who's going to represent them on what. Harris county public defender's office started out with the misdemeanor docket and now they've grown into the felony docket. There's a good argument that the way to start is with the public defender's office being tasked to handle the more serious offenses, because of the available resources to them.
I'm looking for a way to grow it, because I am challenged with the idea of getting to 30% in a pop. Even 30% in one pop is a significant hit on the budget. And as Mr. Silvera pointed out, the level to get to that level of investment, we would have to cut in other places of the organization, because the likelihood of increasing the tax rate to get there is politically improbable given the context that we're working in with the texas legislature.
2:55 PMI don't know if i'm exactly addressing your question, but I think that the integration between the public defender's office and the private bar really needs to be thought out. One area where my organization looked at this was in the federal public defender's system. I actually have a report on that I could share with you.
I'd appreciate that.
We looked at how the criminal justice act panel and the public defenders interacted. And we encouraged the sharing of resources. Obviously that can't be done in some cases because of conflict problems, training that can be done by the public defender's office. For instance, I don't take cja cases but I frequently call the public defender's office here to ask them questions that I no I -- know they would be better-equipped to answer because of the volume of cases they have. What is done on this particular issue. So, again, maybe the percentage is more of a funding issue, but you really want to continue to concentrate on what the relationship is between the two legs of the stool, as you put it.
2:56 PMThat's good counsel. I appreciate it.
Thank you.
The difficulty for me, it's more of a capacity issue. If we can figure out roles and responsibilities and how we grow a function, we can figure out how to fund it at some point. But the question becomes how you build the capacity to address the needs of the audience that we're trying to serve. You know, I realize that the bottom line is always the bottom line. But what do we put in place to make sure that we've got the level of experiences, you know, that we have the right experiences in the right roles so that we're bringing people at one time while we have an adequate supply of folks with the experience that's necessary to move forward? If we can think about the roles and responsibilities, the things that attorneys need to be capable of at any given juncture, we can figure out how to fund it at some point.
2:57 PMI've got three minutes to answer that?
Sure.
I think that there's some very good people on the study group. I'm not a member at this point, but i've attended some of the meetings. There are people with experiences with other public defender's offices. I think that as this moves forward, what they're going to want to hear from are people that have set up public defenders offices, who have tackled the kind of questions that you're raising and that can give the group some experience on, you know, what data do you need to build that system and how do you determine how many investigators you need, how many support staff, social workers, etc. , do you need. And that's just not a question, I think, that there's a quick answer to. You have to draw the experience from some of the other organizations. Say one thing about the bonding. Look at what they've done in colorado.
2:58 PMNot posted for bonds. we could have a whole day on bonds.
All right.
[ laughing ] and i'm not saying that's not an issue, y'all. I'm just saying we're not posted to discuss bond policies. But I would appreciate your information outside the commissioners court context. Just becauseit's not on the agenda, it would be an open meetings violation. Mr. Alvarez.
2:59 PMGood afternoon, i've been practicing in travis county since 2012. I've been a part of the caps ds system since shortly after it was founded. As a lifelong austin resident, I felt it was my duty to give back to my community. For that reason, as a criminal defense attorney, i'm currently in favor of a public defender's office, one that would supplement our current caps and together, both help lead in the defense of a more just system for our indigent clients. I participated in both the misdemeanor and felony caps mentorship programs. And I have a great appreciation for what c. A. P. S. Has added to my practice personally and my career. I believe a public defender's office, by adding additional resources overall for our indigent clients, both working side by side with c. A. P. S. Would together provide a greater level of indigent defense for all those who need it. The pd's office would also have the additional oversight above attorneys and support staff. In addition, management would -- provide a level of accountability that would enhance the quality of representation, training, and oversight. A pd's office would have the job security that court-appointed attorneys currently lack, giving them the ability to push back for structural changes without the fear of reprisal, changes that would benefit both court-appointed attorneys, hired attorneys, but specifically indigent clients. I appreciate all the hard work that everybody has put into this venture, and especially the differences of opinion within the working group. I do believe the development of a pd's office continues to improve the defense of our indigent clients, and especially here in travis county. Thank you.
3:01 PMThank you so much, Mr. Alvarez. I appreciate your perspective, being so involved in cap ds as well as in the volunteer work to find our way to a pd's office.
Thank you.
We've got about six more people signed up. The list keeps growing. And we are at 3:00. We do have a number of executive session items, one of which is the civil family courts capacity project. [ chuckling ] so I do want to leave time for that. I'm sorry? [ off mic ]
Yeah, and Commissioner Shea has been very ill. So I would ask as I call your name, if someone else has already made your point -- I know this is difficult, because it's difficult to conceive that someone else has made your point. But if someone else has, if you would consider not speaking so that we could move on to our executive session items. We have ms. Hamam, ms. Woog who has spoken before, and ms. Bohr.
3:02 PMHi, good afternoon, Judge And commissioners. I have a really brief statement that I will just read. But before I jump into that, I just want to highlight that to me, it seems like the questions that Judge Eckhardt and commissioners have today about the structure of a pd office, about how the county undertakes implementing a more just and a better system for us are questions that the working group is designed to answer, and why i'm here in support just to say that the working group should continue in its charge. I have a letter that has been signed by 16 of us, 16 defense practitioners here local. Some of them have spoken already today. Some of them can't be here. But I just wanted to read what we think. To the continue commissioners, we're criminal defense attorneys who represent indigent clients in travis county. We support the work of the indigent legal services working group and right to communicate our strong desire that a pd office be formed. Together, as former and current public defenders and career-long private practitioners, we believe that a client-centered public defender office would change the structure of indigent defense services in a way that will benefit our criminal justice system, our community, anand least importantly, our careers. The office is an investment in our community and profession. The research is clear. Structurally and culturally, a public defender office improves criminal just outcomes for our community. This is the ultimate goal of our work. And specifically, a public defender office pays dividends in improving the structure of indigent defense as a whole in travis county by providing resources to public and private defenders alike -- training, legal research, institutional knowledge, consulting, and an on-ramp for new lawyers who are looking to start their careers in criminal defense. With institutional weight, a public defender office can help continually evolve county criminal justice processes along prosecutors, judges, and county officials. Our system is bettered by the existence of a pd office. So is our practice as defense attorneys, even if we do not work at such an office. We ask that the ils working group continue in its charge to explore how a new public defender office alongside improvements to the managed assigned counsel program could be implemented in travis county to improve indigent defense outcomes. We look forward to learning its recommendations and submitting the letter of intent to keep travis county moving forward as we strive to be a community committed to justice for all. Thank you.
3:05 PMThank you. ms. Woog.
I just want to address a couple things that i've heard. One is the tidc grant money that's coming from the state is only for new programs. And specifically, as part of that it's to fund public defender offices. When we're talking about the funding of the system more broadly, that is absolutely something that we've been charged with and are working on as we continue forward. But when Judge Eckhardt, you mentioned the difficulty in upfront investment, the purpose of the tidc grant is to give you that investment into building an office and a more just system. The way that the grant is structured or most of them are is, an 80/60/40/20 over four years. When we see 30%, I agree, 30% in one year is virtually impossible for any office to start doing in terms of numbers of cases. But that's kind of built into the length of the funding and the plan for the grant. And that's something that we as a working group are developing, thinking about what is reasonable and feasible in terms of, you know, the county stepping up over the term of the grant, but also in terms of growing an office from a pragmatic standpoint of hiring and that kind of thing. That being said, and this was something that we clarified with tidc at our meeting last night, this was for program development and not only for public defender offices. So it could -- this same funding stream could be requested by cap ds in the future going forward. It doesn't preclude them from asking for additional funding through that cap ds program. That's something we'll consider as a group going forward now that we have the cap ds subcommittee started. I understand ultimately we're looking to the future of how this county is going to be funded this more broadly. But the purpose of the tidc grant program is to help the county along in the first four years to get there. That being said, the tidc grant is also available to a public defender office during the same grant period. And I think melissa's office or cap ds has taken advantage of that possibility as well. So just because a program is built out the way that it is in the initial grant period, it doesn't foreclose the office or the county from going in and asking for additional funding for new programming in that office within the same grant period or outside of the grant period. I hope that's clear. And that's something that i've been learning through this process. The other thing that I just wanted to mention is, Judge Eckhardt, on your question about starting an office that's kind of specialized in terms of certain charges, one of the -- part of thecharge of our working group was to come up with proposals and recommendations around client-centered indigent defense. And for reasons that Mr. Morris mentioned and others, it's really difficult to have a client-centered indigent defense when you're focused on the charge. It runs contrary to that. Client-centered indigent defense means that you meet the client where their needs are. That could include misdemeanors, felonies, housing, and other legal consequences. That's to develop two ideas that i've heard through this process. Thank you.
3:08 PMLet me ask, amanda, I want to make sure i'm correct here. Do you need the judges to move this thing forward? Do the judges have to sign off on something, or can y'all just go and do it without the judges?
So we need --
Let me interject there. I don't think ms. Woog can answer that. We answer that. It's really a question of whether we would move forward without the judges. So I think it's unfair to ask ms. Woog to respond to that.
3:09 PMI'm trying to give them something.
I'm simply saying no matter what amanda says, the issue really is whether we as a commissioners court would move forward without the judges.
Speak to -- sorry.
What?
If only -- interject legally, according to the code of criminal procedure if you're going to set up a pd you do need a letter from the judges. Not for the grant, but just to be clear, going forward with the actual pd, you will need a Judge Trying cases in criminal courts in travis county to agree to that.
I think I can answer your question from the tidc guidelines. That might have been what you're asking. The tidc requirement for the letter of intent to proceed is the signature of one judge. and, you know, how that comes about, obviously there are political considerations around that. But I can speak to that from the grant guidelines, if that's what you're asking.
3:10 PMI think we're good. we'll go to ms. Bohr.
Good afternoon. I don't have prepared remarks, so I will just briefly and very candidly plead with you do do everything in your power to support the opening of a public defender's office in travis county. My name is judith bohr and I have been a solo practitioner in travis county for four years serving 95% the public interest, meaning I take mostly court-appointed cases. I do pro bono work. I represent low-income private clients when necessary at a significantly reduced rate and do take the occasional private client, but the majority of my practice overwhelmingly is court appointments. I earned a master's in philosophy specializing in anticolonialism, which motivated me to become a public defender. And i'm still struggling every day to do this work alone with no support. I would really like to work shoulder to shoulder with other people who are doing this work with me. And I want the commission to know how close I came to not fulfilling my dream of being a public defender. I almost did not go into this area because it was too hard to start alone without any support. There is no clear path. If somebody wanted to do adult criminal defense for the indigent and make a career out of it, I would recommend don't come to travis county. I hope I can give different advice in the near future. We have an office of child representation, of criminal representation, and I have had the pleasure of working alongside them as I take court appointments in the cps realm so I can make my represent. Rent. Cps cases allow for private attorneys to receive court appointments. But ocr and opr do raise the bar. Juvenile law is also an interest of mine, however, my passion is adult criminal defense. I've seen the juvenile public defender's office also do excellent work. And they also create a clear path for people to serve the public interest if that is the area of law they'd want to go into. We need something like that in travis county. And I plead with you, please do everything in your power to support the opening of a public defender's office in travis county.
3:12 PMThank you, ms. bohr. appreciate it. I've got three more. Mr. Clark, Mr. Harris, and ms. Munoz.
3:13 PMThank you.
Thank you.
I'm sorry, I can't remember which order I called y'all up in. I think it was Mr. Clark.
Yes. thank you, commissioners. Good afternoon. My name is james clark. I'm a criminal defense attorney and a member of acdla. I've been in private practice in travis county for a little over a year and approximately 75% of my caseload is comprised of indigent clients appointed through cap ds. I came here today to voice my strong support for the creation of a public defender office in travis county and also for the work that the indigent legal services working group has been doing, which i've been following closely. First, a public defender office would be better-able to provide training and oversight for defense attorneys. The skills that we need as a defense attorney, including case preparation, case evaluation, negotiation, investigation, building client relationships, are not skills that we're born with. And they're often not skills that we're taught in law school. They're skills that we learn on the job. I was lucky enough to gather most of these skills during my time as a public defender in the colorado public defender system as well as internships in other public defender offices. It's through that supportive structure that I learned how to become a little closer to the lawyer that my clients deserve. When I came to practice in austin, I started at the cap ds misdemeanor mentorship program last year. The program was critical for helping me start my practice and introducing me to the local courts and defense bar, but it seemed inadequate for anyone who didn't already have a significant experience in and a strong command of criminal defense practice. It's not that the people involved were unwilling or unable to help. To the contrary, most of the other attorneys I met were very well-informed and gracious with their time. The problem is that there are structural shortcomings to a private defender service that cannot provide the day-to-day training, mentorship, and oversight that are necessay for new attorneys to grow and improve their practice. Too often it felt like we had no choice but to go it alone. Echoing what ms. Bohr said, I speak of law students who are interested in criminal defense work. My advice to them is to always go somewhere else to learn how to do it, and then think about whether or not they want to return to travis county. My second point focuses on the bigger picture. A public defender office would create stronger institutional support for defending the fundamental constitutional rights not just of our indigent clients, but every single one of us. Too often the work of defense attorneys is framed as merely defending people who are accused of crimes. But the core of our work in many ways is defending the basic constitutional rights that we enjoy. The criminal legal system is where notions of liberty and justice get put to the test. Whether it's the smallest traffic stop or the most serious felony, the rights that we have and the rules for how we can be treated exist because of the work of defense attorneys. Like public health or vaccinations, investing in indigent defense and creating strong institutional support for the work we do as defenders protects all of us, whether we will ever need a court-appointed attorney or not. When i've spoken with friends and colleagues here and in other places and told them travis county doesn't have a public defender's office they are shocked and it conflicts with their perception of what travis county and austin are and should be.
3:16 PMI'll ask you to stop there, to see if there's any questions for you. Any questions? And i'm sorry, i'm just trying to manage time.
I understand.
But your comments are well taken. Mr. Harris.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak. I really just wanted to talk a little bit about the funding element, because I do think that you all are being presented in a lot of ways with a false choice as it relates to whether or not to have a public defender or whether or not to strengthen the existing managed assigned counsel system. From 2014 until 2018, according to the tidc data, you had about a 23% increase in indigent defense spending, okay? And this is not due to some vast increase that y'all have made, acdla will tell you, in the amount you're paying per case. This is purely based on the number of cases that are being tried within the county. In particular, a steep increase in the number of felonies that are being tried which obviously come along with more cost to the county and to everyone. And I can't not say that this is also in a period of declining crime, both nationally and locally. And so, you know, there are many, many systemic issues that go into that. But you all are going to be faced with, without change to the criminal justice system as it exists today, continuing indigent defense costs. And those will continue to grow whether or not you decide to invest that money in a public defender office. And so to say that only a public defender will lead to you all spending more money I think is incorrect. If you look at the tidc proposal, which the letter of intent draft that the working group passed last night basically mirrors what it's looking at for the county is about 1. 8 million in year one, additional funds from the county. And that comes with 6. 3 -- over 6. 3 million from the state. And over the course of the four years of the grant, which slowly decreases in the amount they're paying, it's over $15 million in state money that the county has an opportunity to take advantage of, to, as you've heard today, lift the entire -- all boats as it relates to indigent defense. The other big thing here is that, you know, obviously the question is, okay, if there's 30% pd what happens to the 70 other percent? I've heard no considerations that we're going to be lowering the amount that are going to be paid to private attorneys. So if money is what drives them -- and I don't think it does for all of them, but surely for some -- I don't see that their incentive structure is going to change necessarily. And that's if you all do nothing as it relates to the managed assigned counsel cases. Those 70% of folks are going to continue to have the same lottery they have today as it relates to do they get a good private defender or someone who's just in it for the money. What you are going to do is say wow, these other 30% of folks are now going to have a much better structure, a much better opportunity of getting justice in the county and a much better opportunity of returning to their families when they deserve to ru. Again, I really just want to say that I believe a false choice has been in front of you. A public defender office is really the only solution here.
3:19 PMThank you.
It's going to give us a good start.
Questions for Mr. Harris? ms. Munoz.
3:20 PMI'm going to give my spot to Mr. Paul quincy.
Mr. Quincy, you didn't sign up.
Judge, I actually just got here.
Normally -- let's just say he signed up. Here's my issue. Last week we had a very large group similar to this on a very heated issue, and an individual wanted to speak on behalf of another individual and I said no. And i'd like to stay consistent on that. If you sign up, great, you get to speak. If you didn't sign up or you're not here, somebody else can't speak on your behalf. So i'm really just trying to stay consistent. Mr. Quincy, would you like to sign up to speak?
I would, judge.
Because he is physically here. But again, really, please don't take my reticence for taking Mr. Quin anything other than i'm trying to stay consistent issue to issue to issue. This was with regard to great divide and the individual who wanted to speak on behalf of his wife. So, Mr. Quincy, I will write you down as -- I think -- let's see. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen -- 17th speaker.
3:21 PMThank you.
Mr. Quincy.
Thank you, judge, commissioners. I actually wrote y'all an email, but i'd like to read that into the record. Judge Eckhardt, commissioners, and brothers and sisters, until recently it was my privilege to serve as vice chair of the ils working group. With great reluctance, I resigned after the board voted to end its participation in this process. The work, of this group to provide recommendations regarding a public defender's office and reform the payment structure is vital to a more just indigent defense system for the people of travis county. It is my sincere hope this work will continue. I also served as the chair of the judicial outreach subcommittee. In my conversations with the local defense bar and judiciary, the primary concern is that the county has not provided adequate funding, and there's skepticism they will do so in the future. This is understandable considering that caps pays sub-subpar flat rates. Creating a new office to handle 30% of indigent cases with our currently underfunded system providing for the remaining 70% has been a tough sell with some. It's a conversation worth having to explore how to provide resources for indigent defense overall. One of the basic tenets of the working group has been to make decisions guided by shared values. We have an opportunity to reform the entire system, provided that we truly value the role of attorneys who make it their mission to provide high-quality representation in both public and private comments, everyone seems to agree on the point that a fully funded public defender's office and assigned counsel system is what travis county needs. Although a fully funded system must begin somewhere, I hope the county will commit to invest the money necessary to build both prongs in a system that everyone agrees needs reform. I believe that such commitment from our commissioners would go a long way towards overcoming the opposition this group faces. In the time I have spent working with the other members of the work group, i've seen diligent, thoughtful participation by every one of them. I regret the acdla board has chosen to abandon this process and I hope that it will reconsider in the future. Now that its position has been made clear, there is no danger of my personal participation being misconstrued as their support. I offer to return to the working group in my private capacity. Thank you for your time and I encourage all interested parties to remember who we intend to serve, the poor of our community, and get to the business of building a system we all deserve. Thank you.
3:24 PMMr. Quincy, tell me why the association chose to leave. I mean, I keep asking that. I mean, and I haven't gotten it. Why do you think the association got angry enough to pull out?
Well, commissioner, I don't mean to duck your question, but I am not on the board of the acdla. That was a board decision that was made without, really, unfortunately, without a whole lot of input from me. I don't know exactly what all the reasons were that went into that decision. I think it's something about the makeup of the group and how it's been going. But apart from that i'd have to defer to a member of the acdla board.
Is there anybody in this courtroom that knows the answer to that?
Let me ask this. I would like us to move forward. And I would like us to lay in the parking lot any examination of blame, and take relationships at their face value. You know, whatever it is, there seems to be a delta of trust that needs to be worked on. And rather than pointing blame about the source of the lack of trust, why don't we just work on building the trust?
3:25 PMI'm not looking for blame, i'm just trying to figuring out why --
I don't think building the trust -- I don't think a public airing, in this setting, would build that trust. I think that trust is usually built in the safety of communication that is probably not going to occur today under these lights in front of these cameras. But I very much look forward to that trust-building. And that trust-building requires listening, considering one another's perspectives, compromise, a little bit of pain, a little bit of imperfection, and a lot of balance. And i'm asking everyone in this room to engage in that for the benefit of the least among us who find themselves embroiled in the criminal justice context. We're all in this together. This goal is shared. Please don't let us fracture over how we get there. I do not want to see the perfect become the enemy of the good and to lose yet another opportunity for a public defender's office. I've been doing this for 20 years. And there's some who testified here today who have been doing it even longer. So, we have a shared goal. Let's build the trust necessary to get a much stronger, much more robust three-legged stool that will support the rights of the accused in our community irrespective of what their personal resources are. So, with that, we're not going to take action today, but we'll be back. I'll be putting things on the agenda. I'll be working with various stakeholders to figure out what discrete pieces we'll bring back. And y'all are just going to have to rock and roll with me. I'm not saying that some things aren't issues, but we can only eat the elephant one bite at a time.

3:28 PMSo it's going to be quite a banquet. Thank you very much. That takes us to executive session at 3:27. The first being agenda item number 18, consider and take appropriate action on the civil and family courts facilities project. This is under consultation with attorney and real property exceptions to the open meetings act. We also have agenda item number 29, receive legal briefing in amy hit versus city of austin, 1:18-cv-5051, consultation with attorney exception to the open meetings act. If you all could hold your discussion until you are outside the door.