Thursday, 5 April 2007

Judges Rely on Costlier Lawyers

Judges Rely on Costlier Lawyers

That's the headline in today's Dallas Morning News. The subtitle of this major article is, "Study: Dallas County could save millions using public defenders."

Dallas County formed the state's first public defender's office more than two decades ago to offer inexpensive and efficient representation for the poor.

The office has since grown, but the county's criminal court judges have continued to rely on more costly court-appointed lawyers for felony cases despite the state's urging to the contrary, county records show.

A 2006 state judiciary report said Dallas County could save millions each year by primarily using public defenders like nearly every other metropolitan area outside Texas.

But some judges say cost isn't the only factor. They say public defenders aren't always the best choice for certain cases. For specialized cases, they like having the option of tapping more experienced defense lawyers.

"While the public defender's office is maybe of a benefit financially, we're all aware that there are many good defense lawyers that we want representing the folks in jail," said Judge Lena Levario of the 204th District Court, who was a private defense lawyer before being elected this year. "I think there is a great benefit to having a wide variety of attorneys representing defendants."

But money can influence the appointment system, some observers say. That's because judges get most of their campaign money from private defense lawyers, some of whom rely on appointments for their livelihood.

Last year, Dallas County criminal district judges assigned just 38 percent of cases to public defenders, county budget office figures show. Misdemeanor court judges assigned more of their cases to public defenders.

No comments: