December 21, 2011

About the Office

Read about the office: “Overview of the Operational Evaluation” by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

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The Harris County Public Defender’s Office (PDO) was authorized by the Harris County Commissioners Court to represent indigent persons charged in the misdemeanor, felony, and juvenile courts. The office receives its cases by appointments from judges. Persons represented by this office can expect zealous representation from the combined experience of lawyers, investigators, social workers, and other administrative staff.The Chief Public Defender, Alex Bunin, serves as a county department director who also works with other county departments to coordinate available services for indigent defendants. In particular, the Chief Public Defender will work with the Harris County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority, local law schools, and others to improve criminal defense, mental health treatment, and other services to indigent defendants.

Funding and Oversight
The PDO is funded through a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (formerly the Task Force on Indigent Defense). While judges will appoint the PDO to represent some indigent defendants, they will continue to appoint qualified private assigned counsel in many cases, resulting in a “hybrid system” that is designed to enhance effective representation of indigent defendants.The PDO is monitored by a 15-member oversight board, with its budget controlled by the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Objectives
Provide trial and appellate representation to indigent clients charged with, or convicted of, felonies in district court.Provide trial counsel and support services to indigent clients who are acutely mentally ill or intellectually disabled and charged with a misdemeanor in the fifteen county criminal courts at lawProvide representation for juveniles accused of acts of delinquency in juvenile court.Provide continuing legal education services to assistant public defenders and private defense counsel who represent indigent clients.Act as a resource and support to private defense counsel assigned to indigent clients.Improve the provision of services to mentally ill misdemeanor defendants.Utilize performance measures of indigent defense services to provide evidence of effectiveness.Engage in a collaborative effort with the defense bar for systemic policy development and decision-making.