Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stadium trumps indigent defendants' rights

So while Harris County commissioner decided the county did not have enough money to continue funding indigent defense at its current levels (see "Indigent defendants take a hit"), the county was able to find enough money to go into a joint venture with the City of Houston and the Houston Harris County Sports Authority to build a new stadium for the Houston Dynamo.

Now I'm a soccer fan. I watch it, I coach it and I play it. But, if the county insists that payments to attorneys appointed to represent indigent defendants must be reduced, how does it find the funds to help build a stadium for a privately-held entity?

I've heard all the arguments about how it will revitalize the east side of downtown and create new jobs, blah, blah, blah. Those are the same arguments trotted out anytime someone wants to build a new stadium. The truth is the building of a stadium just takes money out of one set of hands and transfers it to another set. A more glaring truth can be seen down at Reliant Park - where, oh where, is the promised economic development along South Main and the South Loop? The only difference I've noticed is the huge empty lot across the freeway where Astroworld once stood.

If building stadiums made economic sense the owners of the franchises would have no problem rounding up investors to buy the land and build the playground -- the very fact they are asking the city and county to get involved tells me that the owners of the Dynamo couldn't convince enough people in the private sector to put up their own money.

And when the choice is made that it is more important to help build a stadium for a professional sports franchise than it is to see that indigent defendants are provided their Sixth Amendment right to counsel, that tells you something about the priorities of the politicians and their constituencies.

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