As noted in our Gideon Alert on January 26, the National Association of Counties recommended the federal government fund pilot public defender programs to serve multi-county jurisdictions in rural areas. The San Angelo Standard-Times reports that Tom Green County, Texas is considering such a regional model using grant funds from the state’s Task Force on Indigent Defense. NLADA applauds the county’s leadership for considering creative solutions to their local right to counsel dilemma.
Elected officials have a fundamental obligation to the taxpayers they serve to continually evaluate the efficacy of the services and programs they provide. They should assess what works, and eliminate what does not. The delivery of right to counsel services is no different – policymakers must provide effective assistance of counsel to those facing criminal charges who cannot otherwise afford it, as our Constitution demands, and should then seek to do so in the most efficient manner available.
Any regional defender model Tom Green County and the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense consider must incorporate national standards for public defense delivery systems, including those protecting the defense function from undue judicial or political interference. The first of the ABA’s Ten Principles explicitly limits judicial and political oversight, and calls for the establishment of an independent oversight board whose members are appointed by diverse authorities. An independent oversight board insulates the defense system so that no single official or political party has unchecked power over the delivery of right to counsel services. A regional defender system – whether using a public defender model or assigned counsel model – should therefore be implemented and overseen by an independent board of diverse appointing authorities.
The National Study Commission on Defense Services’ Guidelines for Legal Defense Systems, Guideline 2.10 is the prevailing national standard jurisdictions should follow in establishing an independent board to oversee public defense services.