Travis County Commissioners vote on public defender office budget and oversight board

July 30, 2019

Members of the Indigent Legal Services Working Group outside the Commissioners Court, May 7, 2019
Community advocates pushed this morning to add one more community member on oversight board as well as demand that impacted people “be part of every process” that impacts their lives

AUSTIN, Tex. — Earlier today, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted on two items related to the establishment of a public defender office. The first item establishes an oversight board composed of community members and those involved in the criminal justice system while the second item lays out the budget that cuts funds from the initial proposal for 24/7 magistration and four full-time staff critical to the success of a public defender office, including an immigration attorney. 

The following is a statement by Grassroots Leadership in response to this vote:

It is baffling that the first adult public defender office is only now coming to Travis County. Outside of the Mental Health Public Defender and the juvenile public defender office, it is clear we are way behind in indigent legal representation. Consider this: Travis County’s District Attorney and County Attorney offices’ combined budgets approach $50 million; the public defender office budget combined with the CAPDS budget is just under $23 million. 

As community members and directly impacted individuals, we engaged in the process to create a holistic, client-centered public defender office in good faith, wanting to believe that the commissioners court would examine its role in mass incarceration and take proactive steps in order to undo some of the harm it has created. 

We are disappointed to hear that some of the key provisions that would resource a public defender office sufficiently are being left on the cutting room floor today. In the era of anti-immigrant SB4, studies show that early interventions in the legal system are often the only way to stop a deportation. 

However, this will not deter us from our mission to ensure everyone in our community has fair and equal representation. We are proud of the participation of directly impacted people by forcing our way into this process, and we will continue working with those most impacted by the mass incarceration agenda as we seek solutions that dismantle this system that has been so harmful to our communities. 

We know that these solutions will come from those of us who have suffered the most under its cruel and unjust hand, and in efforts to protect our people, we will continue our work through the Travis County Court Watch program, the Linea Defensa, Court Accompaniment, Know Your Rights trainings, and Participatory Defense once the office is in place. 

Finally, we will continue to hold our elected officials accountable by demanding that impacted people be part of every process that impacts us and for commissioners to invest more in indigent representation instead of throwing more money into new jail facilities.

Contact: 

Annette Price, aprice@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111

Alicia Torres, atorres@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111