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Commemorating The 15th Anniversary Of The Texas Fair Defense Act

It has established statewide standards for the criminal defense of low income Texans.

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Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis and Juan ‘Chuy' Hinojosa participated in the symposium about the Texas Fair Defense Act organized by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis (left) and Juan ‘Chuy' Hinojosa (right) participated in the symposium about the Texas Fair Defense Act organized by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

The Texas Indigent Defense Commission hosted a symposium on the Texas Fair Defense Act in commemoration of the fifteenth anniversary of its passage.

The event was held at the Harris County Fourteenth Court of Appeals, located in downtown Houston, and Texas state senators Rodney Ellis and Juan ‘Chuy' Hinojosa were two of the main guests.

Ellis and Hinojosa were the leading sponsors of the bill in 2001 when they were members of the Texas Senate and House of Representatives, respectively.

The Texas Fair Defense Act established statewide standards for the criminal defense of low income Texans through measures such as the timely appointment of an attorney and compensation for experts who work on cases with indigent defendants.

It also created the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

James Bethke, who is its executive director, points out that "since the inception of the Fair Defense Act there’s been approximately 17 or 18 new public defender offices established across the state."

Data compiled by the commission indicate that in the last five years in Harris County more than 60 percent of felony cases involving low income Texans, on average, were defended by attorneys that were appointed based on the standards set by the law.

But there are still challenges, such as some counties being more effective in designating lawyers for misdemeanor cases.

Ellis, who was the leading sponsor of the bill back in the Texas Senate, highlights another area where there's room for improvement.

"Caseload problems and workload issue problems," Ellis adds, "we still have too many lawyers who are given too many cases."

The Department of Justice, DOJ, was also represented at the event.

Lisa Foster, who heads its Office for Access to Justice, noted the DOJ has provided a grant for the Commission and Texas A&M University to study the effects of the law more thoroughly.

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