Travis County Office of Parental Representation provides annual report

Travis County commissioners discuss an annual overview provided by the Office of Parental Representation at a meeting May 14.

Travis County commissioners discuss an annual overview provided by the Office of Parental Representation at a meeting May 14.

Staff members at the Travis County Office of Parental Representation, or OPR, spent more than twice the number of hours on cases than private attorneys, according to an overview the office provided at a May 14 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court.

This discrepancy is partly due to the difference in assignments between OPR attorneys and private attorneys, OPR Managing Attorney Lori Kennedy said.

OPR staff works exclusively with primary parents, or the parent who spends the most amount of time with the child or children involved in a case. Private attorneys work with primary as well as “noncustodial” parents. The latter group may or may not be involved in the raising of the child or children or even aware of their existence, Kennedy said.

OPR was founded in 2009 as a specialized public defender’s office. It serves indigent parents—or those who cannot afford private counsel—who have had their children removed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services or who are at risk of having their children removed due to allegations of abuse and neglect.

In fiscal year 2018, OPR provided counsel to around 35% of these parents, or in 325 cases. The remainder of the cases are assigned to private attorneys contracted by the county.


Between fiscal years 2014-17, OPR staff—which includes attorneys, paralegals and social workers—spent an average of 57.4 hours on each case. The minimum time spent was 48.7 hours, and the maximum time spent was 67.4 hours.

OPR attorneys spent an average of 42.7 hours on each case.

During that same time period, private attorneys contracted by the county to represent indigent parents spent an average of 26.1 hours on each case. The minimum time spent on a case was 22.5 hours, and the maximum time spent was 29.6 hours.


A county precedent


Earlier this month, Travis County applied for a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, a state agency, that would allow it to create an all-purpose public defender’s office. Austin is the largest city in the country without one.

Pending a grant award, the new office would likely grow to oversee the county’s existing specialty public defender’s offices, which include OPR, the office of child representation, the juvenile public defender’s office and the mental health public defender’s office.

“I know my attorneys would love to be involved with [this new public defender’s office] because we’re such a small office. We’re so focused on this one area, and it’s a very difficult type of law,” Kennedy said. “I think it would really open us up to have other attorneys to bounce ideas off of [and] have other people with fresh eyes look at things.”

Similar to OPR, the proposed public defender’s office would handle around 30% of indigent criminal cases in Travis County, while private attorneys would provide representation in the remainder.

“We’ve seen both in anecdote and in study after study after study that these public defender’s offices tend to provide better representation,” TIDC Executive Director Geoffrey Burkhart told Community Impact Newspaper in March.

A 2018 study by researchers at Rand Corp. and the University of Pennsylvania Law School found a holistic public defense model—such as the one Travis County is proposing—reduces the likelihood of jail or prison sentences by 16% and expected sentence length by 24% compared to outcomes secured by private attorneys.

The TIDC will announce its grant awards in June.
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


MOST RECENT

Photo of an outdoor fort art exhibit
'Fortlandia' art installation coming to Butler Hike and Bike Trail

The interactive outdoor art exhibit was originally part of the popular "Fortlandia" event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 2020.

The Lions Municipal Golf Course is part of one of four University of Texas-owned properties that could move through Austin's rezoning process over the coming months. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Public feedback process now open for rezoning of 4 UT-owned properties, including West Austin's Muny golf course

An initial public engagement session covering the Brackenridge tracts, where Muny is located, will be held June 21.

The Office of Police Oversight released its first comprehensive report detailing its operations though 2019 and 2020 this June. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Office of Police Oversight report finds complaints against Austin police officers went up, but discipline fell in 2020

The new report centers on the office's three main functions, including tracking APD officer discipline, reviewing the city's police policies, and engaging with Austin residents.

Dreamland adding a disc golf course to its Dripping Springs outdoor entertainment and arts offerings in June. (Courtesy Dreamland)
Dripping Springs and Driftwood business news: Dreamland gets disc golf, new dog grooming business gets closer to opening and more

The new disc golf course at the outdoor entertainment venue sits on 42 acres and is free to play through June.

Volunteers of Austin Vaccine Angels gathered after becoming fully vaccinated. (Courtesy Jodi Holzband)
Grassroots groups aimed at vaccine outreach look toward the future

For the past five months, grassroots volunteer groups have been working to connect thousands of Central Texans to COVID-19 vaccines.

Washington Prime Group Inc. owns six area shopping centers, including The Arboretum. (Courtesy The Arboretum)
Owner of Austin-area shopping centers files for bankruptcy; entertainment complex coming to Cedar Park and more top area news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Central Texas area.

Photo of a woman and girl walking the trail with the Austin skyline behind them
Travis County commits to electrify fleet, doubles down on climate goals

Commissioners directed staff this week to develop a plan to fully electrify Travis County's fleet of vehicles, a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions for the county.

The Bloomhouse—an 1,100-square-foot home in the hills of West Austin—was built in the 1970s by University of Texas architecture students for fellow student Dalton Bloom. It was featured in the Austin Weird Homes Tour of 2020. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Weird Homes Tour ends; Z’Tejas to close Arboretum restaurant and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Project Connect's proposed Orange Line will run from Tech Ridge, through downtown Austin and to Slaughter Lane. (Rendering courtesy Project Connect)
Project Connect Orange Line design reveals proposed locations for rail stations in North, South Austin

The latest Orange Line design shows potential elevated rail line over I-35, as well as options for the Drag.

Photo of a weird home
Austin's Weird Homes Tour says goodbye—for now

The tour's founders say they are open to a new local operator taking over the event.

The former hotel off I-35 had most recently been used as a COVID-19 homeless Protection Lodge. (Courtesy City of Austin)
East Cesar Chavez encampment residents move into former South Austin hotel

Through Austin's HEAL initiative, residents of an encampment near East Austin's Terrazas Branch Libarary were relocated to a South Austin shelter before that camp is cleared away.

The regional blood bank appealed for further donations in the wake of the June 12 shooting in downtown Austin. (Courtesy We Are Blood)
We Are Blood appeals for blood donations following weekend shooting in downtown Austin

The Central Texas nonprofit also said its blood supply remains depleted due to decreased donations through the COVID-19 pandemic.