The TIDC is a branch of the Texas government focused on improving legal defense for people who cannot afford their own attorney, and it would provide 80% of funding for both programs in the first year and 20% less every year after.
In its first year, the programs would cost the county $451,275 to launch, and the TIDC would provide $1,805,307 of the total project's cost of $2,256,582 if the grant is approved. Both programs would be operated by Neighborhood Defender Service, or NDS, which also manages public defender offices in New York and Detroit.
Currently, indigent defendants are appointed a lawyer by one of the county's judges from a rotating list of private defense attorneys practicing in Hays County.
According to NDS' proposal, its managed assigned counsel program would oversee 70% of felonies and 82% of misdemeanor cases assigned to indigent defendants. The program would assign participating private attorneys to cases while providing training, supervision and mentoring. It would also include shared resources for participating attorneys, such as legal investigators.
The public defender's office, called NDS Hays County, would employ defense attorneys that would handle 414 felony and 717 misdemeanor cases per year, or 30 % and 18% of these types of cases in Hays County, respectively. Of those, 138 felony cases and 478 misdemeanor cases would be mental health cases.
Geoffrey Burkhart, the executive director of TIDC, was among the attendees of the May 4 meeting, as were several community members speaking in favor of the application.
Defense attorney Shannon Fitzpatrick, who is the county's former assistant district attorney, voiced her support for the programs during a public comment period at the May 4 meeting.
"Today's vote will be both the start and the combination of several years of work that will bring significant change to the citizens of this county," Fitzpatrick said. "Approving this application will blaze a positive path forward. In the decades to come, people may not remember your names but many will feel the impact of your actions."
NDS' proposal states the public defender office would provide some financial savings to the county by reducing pretrial detention rates. As of May 2, the Hays County Jail held 418 people, representing 82% of its population, who were awaiting trial, according to the Vera Institute of Justice Jail Dashboard.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Walt Smith expressed concern over residents who said the county had a moral duty to support the defendant-focused program. While pledging continued support of the program, he stated the county was also obligated to support victims and had to make sure the release of defendants showed concern for them as well.
The Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission, or HCCJCC, recommended approval of the application, with District Attorney Wes Mau abstaining from the vote. A judge representing multiple Hays County judges also abstained because they had not reached a consensus on the programs.
Local defense attorney Todd Dudley was the lone vote against the application and cited concerns over caseloads in the program. However, during the HCCJCC meeting Mau said NDS' proposed caseload sounded operable, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Lon Shell noted his belief that NDS would have framed its proposal within TIDC caseload guidelines.
Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, who is a co-chair of the HCCJCC with Shell, offered her gratitude May 4 to community members who pushed for the programs.
"You know there's members out in the audience that spoke with me early on regarding this issue and really opened my eyes to many things," Inglasbe said. "I appreciate all of your work and persistence."
Hays County will find out in September if the grant is approved.