November 10, 2010
Written by Tina Dechausay
The clinic will efficiently provide services through experienced defense counsel using the resources of the Texas Tech School of Law, including the assistance of qualified law students.
The Caprock Regional Public Defender Office (CRPDO), an initiative by the Texas Tech School of Law Clinical Programs, recently took another step toward reality with the execution of the contract between Dickens County and Texas Tech. The intent of the CRPDO project is to provide representation to indigent defendants and juvenile respondents, who are appointed counsel in 16 counties of Northwest Texas.
"The creation of a staffed public defender program as a project of the School of Law Clinical Programs will result in a cost-effective delivery model for indigent defense services," said Patrick S. Metze, director of the school's Criminal Defense Clinic.
"The clinic will have the ability to efficiently provide services through experienced defense counsel utilizing the resources available through the Texas Tech School of Law, including the assistance of qualified law students."
The burden to provide the legal representation to the poor required by both the United States and Texas Constitutions has historically been left completely to the counties. Since 2001, however, through the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense discretionary grants, and other programs, counties have been able to receive state funds to help offset those costs. On June 9 the task force approved more than $2.5 million in new funding to Texas counties to improve their indigent defense systems. As part of this grant, Dickens County was awarded $566,701 for the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office.
"The counties for which the office will be providing services are rural counties that, in the past, have appointed private attorneys who applied to be on a court's appointment list," Metze said. "As very few private attorneys live in or serve this geographical area, it has been extremely difficult to establish a stable and consistent pool of experienced counsel to provide representation of indigent defendants in criminal cases resulting in an underserved population."
With the great distances throughout the 16-county region and the ever-increasing need to conserve limited resources, video-conferencing equipment will be purchased and placed in the CRPDO in Lubbock, in each courtroom utilizing the CRPDO, and in each jail servicing the region. With the cooperation of the courts, trips to the counties can be consolidated and limited to conserve resources.
One of the primary goals of this project is the opportunity to use inter-disciplinary research to inform the bench, bar, governmental entities and criminal justice stakeholders as to cost-effective methods of delivering indigent defense services in a manner that could be a model for replication in other underserved areas.
"I am confident this will make a difference in the lives of indigent people charged with a criminal offense – both adults and children – while providing invaluable training and experience for the next generation of attorneys graduating from our school," Metze said. "Our hope is that this will continue to be a positive experience for all involved while providing unique research opportunities and scholarship to create a new vehicle to change the way legal services are provided to the poor."
The Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense has committed 100 percent of the cost of the program for the first two years of the project, which will be renewed on a year-to-year basis, and is expected to become a permanent institutional presence in the region.
The Texas Tech School of Law is a leader among Texas law schools with a 16-year average pass rate of 90 percent on the State Bar Exam.
A small student body, a diverse faculty and a low student-faculty ratio (15.3:1) promotes learning and encourages interaction between students and professors.