Travis County Commissioners vote for a public defender office, but excludes community voices

May 7, 2019

The vote occurred after community advocates asked for a holistic, client-centered, and financially responsible public defender office


For immediate release: May 7, 2019

AUSTIN, Tex. — The Travis County Commissioners Court voted this afternoon for the creation of a public defender office in Travis County. The 4-1 vote was in favor of the proposal and amendments submitted by the Travis County criminal court judges and Judge Sarah Eckhardt. While this is an important step towards fair and just representation for those who cannot afford it, advocates are not calling this a victory for the community.

“The most disturbing part of today was that the commissioners voted on something they didn’t even know the full contents of,” said Rebecca Sanchez, organizer for Grassroots Leadership. “Secondly, this proposal was created behind closed doors, and reinforces that the people in power see the community as an afterthought after paychecks.”

“The proposal they voted for seemed rushed and ill-prepared,” said Annette Price, statewide director of Texas Advocates for Justice. “We, as the Indigent Legal Services Working Group (which was put together by the Commissioners), spent the last six months working on a proposal that was holistic, client-centered, and financially responsible. For [the commissioners] to disregard the recommendations feels like a slap in the face. The “Eckhardt” proposal shows how they continue to push agenda items without thoroughly researching what was presented.”

“Today’s vote was extremely confusing as the proposal had not been made public to community members well ahead of time,” said Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director of Grassroots Leadership. “As it stands, there is no community representation, no oversight board was appointed, and unrestricted funds and no accountability for CAPDS, a system that has failed our community without having an oversight review board, are included.”

Before the vote, Grassroots Leadership, Texas Advocates for Justice, ICE out of Austin, community, as well as representatives of the Indigent Legal Services (ILS) working group, held a press conference outside of the Travis County Commissioners Court to ask that the Commissioners approve the proposal created by the Indigent Legal Services Working Group for a public defender’s office.

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past. Follow us @Grassroots_News.


Maria Reza,