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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Bill Tracker: SB 159 – The Public Defender

Denton County does not have a public defender system. Many have argued that our system of providing indigent criminal representation is superior to a public defender system. In Denton County, private attorneys that routinely practice before the courts are assigned to indigent defendants. These attorneys are paid an hourly rate by the county after approval by the judge. It is surprising that prior to the passage of the Fair Defense Act of 2001, few counties were operating public defender’s offices. Also surprising is the reality that most of the state operates like Denton County.

SB 159, authored by Senator Wentworth, is a bill of clarification. SB 159 seeks to fine tune earlier legislation on creating public defender systems. One of the key changes is allowing non-profit corporations to serve in the function of a public defender’s office. Instead of creating a new governmental entity, a non-profit corporation can be created. The funding source for the non-profit would still be the county. The bill also allows smaller counties to pool resources and create one public defender’s office that serves multiple counties.

The bill passed through the Senate with a vote of 30-0. It is now moving through the House. It does not appear to have any opposition.

What exactly is the system?

Karl, as a non-lawyer, who has never had the need for criminal defense, I only have a vague idea about how the system we have works.

I guess I was always under the impression that anyone accused was entitled to a county-paid attorney, but I've heard of some seriously indigent people who have been denied a public defender.

What are the current standards for who has to pay, and how the lawyers are chosen?

Is there an incentive for attorneys to "play ball" with the DA and the Judges in order to stay on the list?

Steve Southwell
WhosPlayin? Blog:

Standards for indigent legal representation

The judges decide whether a particular person is indigent based on multiple criteria, including but not limited to employment status and assets.

Lawyers are chosen based on a rotation system. To get on that list is not an easy task. The lawyers have to demonstrate ability to get court appointments.

How Do PI's Work Under This System?

As a private investigator, I'm interested in how to become associated with and gain assignments from this system. How would that work exactly?


Mark K Carroll
Carroll and Associates Investigations
TDPS-PSB# A-16653
Flower Mound, TX

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