“It does appear to be best practice and, at least in our experience as a Commissioners Court, that to marinate on the interviews over the course of one voting cycle has been beneficial for us,” Country Judge Sarah Eckhardt said during the public portion of the meeting. “Although I know it’s probably agonizing for the candidates.”
The contenders were chosen from a pool of 45 applicants. An oversight group tasked by commissioners to oversee the development of the office interviewed seven candidates and recommended two—Adeola Ogunkeyede and Katie Wozencroft—for further interviews by commissioners.
Ogunkeyede is a lecturer at the University of Virginia law school’s civil rights clinic and the legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s civil rights and racial justice program. She previously was the director of staff development at the Bronx Defenders.
Wozencroft is the training director at the Bronx Defenders and previously served as a clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon in Louisiana.
The Bronx Defenders is a nonprofit that pioneered the model of holistic defense; it defends 27,000 low-income Bronx residents each year.
The indigent legal services work group—which consisted of defense attorneys, activists, academics and county staff—that was tasked by commissioners to explore paths to create a public defender’s office cited the Bronx Defenders as a model.
Indigent defendants are those who qualify for appointed counsel because they cannot afford to hire an attorney. The threshold is around $15,600 in annual income for an individual.
With grant funding from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, a state agency, Travis County is on track to have a fully staffed public defender’s office handling 30% of indigent cases by 2024.
The office will begin taking its first cases this fall.
The remainder of cases will continue to be handled by attorneys paid a flat fee by the county to represent indigent defendants.