Lubbock County commissioners on Friday agreed to apply for a grant that would help fund the establishment of a private defender for mental health offenders. The office, which would be the first of its kind in Texas, would use county funds to pay a nonprofit organization to oversee cases defended by private attorney.
"This will actually save money and address a critical issue," said Bill McCay, Precinct 1 commissioner.
Commissioners noted in the Friday meeting concerns about the amount of time people are staying in jail before trial and said this office will help expedite the process for mental health offenders.
Establishing the office will save money by streamlining processes such as mental health screening, which was budgeted to be done by five screeners. This will in turn pay off by getting the people out of jail who don't need to be there, said Patti Jones, Precinct 4 commissioner.
There are no private defenders in Texas, said David Slayton, director of court administration and director of the mental health defender program.
If Lubbock receives the grant, it will start a new system, combining elements of the two existing defense systems in Lubbock County. Currently private attorneys are appointed to handle all non-death penalty cases on an ad hoc basis. Capital cases are handled by the new West Texas Regional Public Defenders Office of Capital Cases, also the first of its kind in Texas.
In a public defender system, the attorneys are actually county employees. The new system will be a convergence of ad hoc and public.
"It's 100 percent a marriage of the two," Slayton said.
The private defenders office still will allow private attorneys to handle the cases of the mental health offenders, but the oversight will be done by a non-profit organization using county dollars to defend the accused.
I'm not sure I understand the proposed system, or how a non-profit managing private attorneys would save any money, though earlier screening for defendants makes a lot of sense. Travis County created a public defender office for mentally ill defendants, but this appears to be a substantially different model.