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Governor appoints Victoria judge to indigent defense commission

June 21, 2012 at 1:21 a.m.

Laura Weiser

Laura Weiser

Gov. Rick Perry formally announced appointments to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission on Thursday, one of which went to a Victoria judge.

Victoria County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Laura Weiser was one of seven named to the commission.

A law passed during the 82nd Legislative Session, HB 1754, granted the commission new autonomy and renamed the organization, which was formerly known as the Task Force on Indigent Defense.

These actions required the board to be reconstituted to create the initial governing body of the commission.

The appointments by the governor mark the official move from task force to commission.

The first official meeting of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission was Thursday in Austin.

The board selected Judge Sharon Keller to serve as the chairwoman. Jim Bethke was appointed to executive director.

Keller said the board looks forward to continuing the improvements in indigent defense initiated by the task force.

"We have 10 years of experience behind us, and the continuity in board membership allows us to immediately address the needs of Texas counties through the implementation of evidence-based practices and targeted funding," she said.

Bethke echoed Keller's sentiments and stated that much of the progress made by the commission has centered on data, implementation of new programs, and distribution of state funds for indigent defense.

Bethke said the data collected "brings transparency and accountability in indigent defense systems because counties are able to document exactly how many cases are represented by court-appointed attorneys and the costs associated with those cases."

He continued, "research-driven decision making is at the heart of what the commission does," playing a role in the new programs that are developed to meet local needs, as well as the distribution of more than $30 million in state funds each year.

Weiser is also a member of the State Bar of Texas, Texas Judicial Council, Texas Association of Court Administrators Advisory Board, and State Bar of Texas Juvenile Law and Criminal Justice sections.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said, "Congratulations to the newly appointed board on its achievements over the last 110 years. I look forward to continue working with the new commission as we face the serious challenges ahead."

Ellis was the principal author of SB 7 creating the Task Force on Indigent Defense in 2001 and a co-sponsor of HB 1754 this past session that created the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

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