Victoria County increases funding for court-appointed cases

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

June 4, 2012 at 1:04 a.m.

Six months into the budget, the Victoria County commissioners approved adding money to the court-appointed attorney cases.

The indigent representation fund, or court-appointed attorneys, received a 55 percent increase when the court approved moving $20,000 into the fund in County Court-at-Law No. 2. Its total budget is $36,000.

Judge Daniel Gilliam presides over that county court.

During Monday's commissioner's court meeting, County Judge Don Pozzi expressed concern about the timing of the transfer.

"It's very early to transfer money to indigent representation when we're not even halfway through the year," he said.

The $20,000 transfer comes from the county's unallocated and contingent fund, which is budgeted at $500,000.

"It's a little early in the year to be moving money into that line item," Pozzi said. "Is indigent cost up that much?"

Judy McAdams, the county auditor, said the county overspent that item last year as well.

Pozzi said the transfer was caused by an increase in attorneys fees, and expects commissioners will need to make another transfer during the year and possibly for other courts.

Specific numbers of court-appointed cases were not available. However, indigent defense appointments increased to 35.45 percent in 2011 from 22.73 percent in 2007.

In 2011, the county paid $558,366 for indigent defense, an increase of 287 percent over 2001 expenditures. That cost includes 573 felony cases and 692 misdemeanors countywide in 2011.

The courts pay by a set rate: for arrested, but no charges filed, the county pays $50; for a felony, $250; for an adjudicated or revoked felony, $200; for a misdemeanor or one that is adjudicated or revoked, $200; for a juvenile, $200; for multiple cases, $50; and to appeal death, felony, misdemeanor or juvenile, $750 to $5,000.

Pozzi said there is not a specific employee or coordinator to verify who is eligible for indigent representation. That responsibility is left up to judges.

There are no specific requirements, but rather, the judges base their decisions on a form the applicant fills out.

A study showed that the county could save $1.50 to $5.80 on verification if a uniform screening process was developed and implemented.

Victoria County submitted a preliminary grant application to Texas Indigent Defense Commission requesting $33,000 for a program that would verify indigents and their eligibility, said Director of Administrative Services Joyce Dean.

However, the county did not submit the full application because all the judges could not agree on the requirements for hiring the coordinator.



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