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Victoria County explores options for death penalty public attorneys

By Melissa Crowe
May 12, 2014 at 12:12 a.m.


OTHER ACTION

• Approved resolution for police officers' week and Peace Officers Memorial Day.

• Approved $48,255 grant award from the Transportation Security Administration with a $58,686 local match.

• Approved certificate order, paying agent, registrar agreement, purchase contract and various closing documents in connection with the $6.34 million certificates of obligation bonds.

With the loss of Victoria County's two public defenders for capital murder cases, officials are considering joining a statewide pool for court-appointed attorneys.

About 160 Texas counties already use Texas Regional Public Defenders for Capital Murder Cases, a Lubbock-based agency with the sole mission of representing indigent defendants facing the death penalty. Victoria County could be the next to join the ranks.

The prospect of bringing in and paying for attorneys to represent indigent defendants facing the death penalty and the cost of the most recent capital murder case brought the discussion to join the program to a head, said County Judge Don Pozzi.

"It's like buying insurance," Pozzi said. "If you never need it, you've spent a lot of money unnecessarily."

If approved, Victoria County would pay $123,059 in October to join the program, which was established in 2008, and $111,872 the following year to stay in the program.

The fee includes attorneys fees, mitigation and investigative costs, hotel and travel expenses and transcripts. Expert witness fees and appeal costs for the death penalty are not included in the price, said Victoria County Indigent Defense coordinator Nora Kucera.

Victoria County averages two death penalty cases annually. The most recent cost the county $133,927.

The program could come with some cost savings.

Jack Stoffregen, chief of the Regional Public Defenders for Capital Cases, said the attorneys track their hours and investigative expenses and compile the figures in a report presented at the conclusion of a case.

"If you hadn't been in the program, here's what you would have spent for this case," he said. "We've had cases that would have cost the county almost $1 million."

He markets the program as a "risk pool" rather than a "cost savings," and the fees to join are prorated based on a six-year window. A county's population and average capital murder cases also plays a factor in the cost.

"Counties go in together to buy insurance," he said. "You don't want it to hail, but if it does, you have protection. You don't want a capital murder case here, but if it happens, you have protection."

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