AUSTIN, Texas – Today the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) presented the Texas Gideon Recognition to Bee, Live Oak and McMullen Counties and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid for their dedication to improving indigent defense practices. In 2009 the three counties joined with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) to form the Bee County Regional Public Defender Office with the support of a TIDC discretionary grant. Since then the program has addressed two critical and challenging indigent defense needs: access to counsel and quality of representation.
On hand to accept the award were Bee County Judge Stephanie Moreno, Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff, McMullen County Judge Jim Teal, TRLA Executive Director David Hall, Bee County Chief Public Defender Michelle Ochoa and First Assistant Public Defender Jessica Canter. "These counties have shown important leadership in pioneering a new regional indigent defense model with TRLA that has proven effective," said Commission Chair Judge Sharon Keller.
"The regional collaboration with TRLA has helped our counties improve our justice system in ways that would be impossible if we were on our own," said Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff.
The program helps ensure that all eligible defendants have access to legal representation. Prior to its inception, Bee, Live Oak, and McMullen Counties were among 110 counties in Texas with misdemeanor appointment rates below 10% and the counties struggled to find enough attorneys to represent indigent defendants. Today, staff investigators actively monitor jail populations and provide intake support at the jails and dockets, streamlining applications for counsel and eligibility determinations. Appointment rates in the counties are now in line with or above state averages. "By ensuring early access to representation, the program has helped us minimize unnecessary pre-trial incarceration," said Bee County Judge Stephanie Moreno. "We can be confident that cases are being handled professionally and in a timely manner," said McMullen County Judge Jim Teal.
The Commission has established the Texas Gideon Recognition Program to commend local governments that meet a high standard for indigent defense.