Victoria County judge says indigent defense program a success
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A year since Victoria County implemented a coordinator for court-appointed cases, Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi said he already considers it to be a financial success.
Coordinator Nora Kucera gave a presentation Monday to county commissioners, saying her office has saved the county $79,950 it otherwise would have to spend housing inmates for whom she was able to write bonds.
"It is working, and we know it will continue to work," Pozzi said.
He said the commissioners court approved Kucera's position because it knew it would come with a cost savings.
"I want to save every penny possible," Pozzi said.
For January 2014, Kucera reported a more than 50 percent decrease in court-appointed attorneys' fees in the 24th Judicial District Court over the previous year - $14,493 compared to $31,565.
The cost of attorneys in the 377th Judicial District Court also fell to $21,486 from $34,347.
The district judges approved an increase in attorneys' fees last year, Pozzi said, making it difficult to see much in the way of savings.
The attorneys can opt to be paid a flat rate of $250 or an hourly rate between $30 and $75 for felony cases.
He expects the program to take two to three years to see significant savings.
"There was not going to be any savings as a result of the attorney fee increase," he said. "At the end of 2014, I expect to see savings of 2013 dollars."
He said it was "too early" to analyze the expenses because of the change in fees.
"You already see a savings in January," he said. "We can now begin to calculate those savings based on actual dollars and costs."
Before Kucera's position was created, judges asked the defendants a few questions about their finances, but now Kucera can thoroughly check whether someone financially qualifies for a court-appointed attorney. A single person earning $957.50 a month, or at 100 percent of the federal poverty guideline, would qualify for a court-appointed attorney.
In 2012, the county spent $630,218 on indigent defense in the four courts - County Courts-at-Law No. 1 and 2 and the 24th and 377th judicial district courts.
In 2013, the county undertook a capital murder case involving Tyrel Richards and by December had spent $731,349 for the year in all four courts, according to Kucera's report.
"The savings comes in the reduced cost of housing inmates," Pozzi said.