Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New appointment system for capital cases in Harris County

A new day is dawning in Harris County when it comes to appointments in capital cases. On Tuesday, a panel of judges introduced a sweeping reform of the manner in which attorneys are appointed to represent indigent defendants charged with capital murder.

Through the creation of a database called the Fair Defense Act Management System, judges will be able to view an attorney's misdemeanor and felony case load before assigning a capital case. Harris County officials hope to avoid future situations in which an attorney accepts more appointed cases than he can handle competently (see "It all adds up to incompetence").

“Do I think sometimes there are folks who are innocent of crimes who are convicted wrongly? Absolutely. This is a great stopgap.” -- Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson

The creation of this new database is another example of what new Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson has brought to the table since taking over the office in January. Mr. Jackson has spent his time in office working on ways to use technology to make the flow of information in the District Clerk's office more efficient and more manageable.


Jeff Gamso said...

So if it works the way Jackson presumably hopes, being too busy won't any longer be a valid excuse for incompetent representation, and they'll have to deal with the underlying problem: incompetent lawyers getting appointed.

Of course, it's a good thing for incompetent lawyers not to have whole bunches of clients, but if we decide who to appoint on the basis of who can't find clients otherwise. . . .

Sigh. Am I showing my cynicism?

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thank you for your comment.

There will always be the problem of incompetent attorneys doing appointed work. There will always be the problem of attorneys who do the bidding of the court receiving an inordinate share of appointments, too.

I am leery of most attorneys who make their living doing indigent defense work in Harris County. Appointed work should be a supplement to an attorney's income - not its main source.

Cyn said...

I agree with you, Paul. There are many incompetent lawyer - both hired & appointed. It is truly an embarassment to our county & our profession.

Taking appointments as a supplement to income is usually done by the better attorneys (v. attorneys who rely completely on appointments.)

There are other concerns, too, though. Letter writers are hired, but certainly I question the competence of many of them. And, even generally hired lawyers don't always do a good job.

At least with the judges checking into the case load of the lawyer to be appointed, they will know that the lawyer at least is not overwhelming him or herself with cases (appointed or hired) to the point that the CAN'T do the work - the question becomes whether they will.

Thanks for the blogspot.