On May 9, Travis County took its next step toward what may be a much improved, more equitable local criminal justice system. After much preparation, consultation, and institutional hemming and hawing, the Commissioners Court forwarded a grant application to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for the creation of a Travis County public defender's office.
Austin is the largest city in the country without a public defender; Travis County instead relies on court-appointed private attorneys to represent its indigent criminal defendants in tens of thousands of cases each year. In a typical year, about 70% of felony charges and 50% of misdemeanors are defended by appointed counsel, according to TIDC statistics. This costs Travis County around $14 million annually, a number most agree is too low for the task.