In advance of the 86th state legislative session, Travis County commissioners are weighing several criminal justice initiatives, including the creation of a public defender office and a proposed merger of the county attorney and district attorney’s offices.
As it stands, 49 Texas counties—including Bexar, Collin, Dallas and Tarrant—offer a criminal district attorney’s office in place of two separate entities, according to the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. In fact, Travis County is the largest in Texas that still has separate offices handling misdemeanors and felonies.
As of August 15, nearly 4,000 Travis County defendants were facing both a misdemeanor case with the xounty attorney’s office and a related felony case with the district attorney’s office, for a total of over 8,000 cases, said Gregg Cox, director of operations for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
In Tuesday’s presentation, members of both offices outlined benefits of the proposed merger.
A more efficient system
• Prevent duplicate work gathering evidence, issuing subpoenas, requesting lab testing and making victim contact
• Fewer cases clogging dockets while waiting on companion cases to resolve
Possible cost savings and resource sharing
• Merger of divisions creates greater resources and support
• Consolidation of technology needs and digital storage space
Equity for defendants
• Faster resolution of cases
• Fewer people charged, and fewer people in jail
• Defendants not charged for multiple offenses out of the same incident, and multiple court settings eliminated
“It’s pretty obvious from an efficiency standpoint that this should work,” Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said. “I just wish we would have [merged the offices]a long time ago.”
County commissioners tasked staff with researching how the proposed merger might impact civil cases and to continue meeting with stakeholders.
More presentations are anticipated over the coming weeks. A vote is expected Nov. 13 as to whether this initiative will be considered for legislative action.