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Commissioners approves TIDC grant for counsel at first appearance trial

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Hays County Commissioner’s Court approved a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to participate in a trial examining the effects of counsel on first appearance. 

The commissioners unanimously, with commissioner Lon Shell absent, approved the grant from the TIDC in the amount of $136,500 during Tuesday’s meeting. The funding will go to compensate defense attorneys that will be in attendance at the “first appearance” — the bail hearing of a defendant in front of a judge or magistrate.

“What a great opportunity for us to look at the benefits of counsel at magistration or first appearance,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe said. “This is at no cost to our county. There are defense attorneys who have agreed to participate in the program and so we’re really excited to implement yet another program that I believe will help the system work more efficiently.”

The commissioner’s court voted previously during its Nov. 19, 2019 meeting to submit a letter of support to the Texas A&M University, Public Policy Research Institute for the randomized control trial, which will study the potential benefits of having counsel at first appearance.

The study will address five issues, according to the agenda item: “Does counsel at first appearance have an impact on bail and pretrial release conditions decisions? For those who are released pre-trial, do defendants with counsel at first appearance exhibit lower (Failure to Appear) rates than those without such representation? Does council at first appearance impact case disposition, sentencing, or pre- or post-trial recidivism? Does counsel at first appearance have an effect on arrestees’ attitudes toward the legal system? What is the cost-benefit ratio for jurisdiction interested in piloting this program?”  

According to the county, counsel is currently not present when a defendant appears in front of a judge or magistrate for the first time.
“I am very grateful that we are moving forward in every step. We’ve been ushering and moving things along and our biggest goal is that as we move through things is not to have anyone feel left out,” County Judge Ruben Becerra said.

In other business, the commissioner’s approved action to authorize the District Attorney to utilize salary savings to restructure attorney positions with the felony division. According to the court’s agenda, “Attorney IV Felony Chief position has become obsolete due to procedural changes within the district courts. As result, the DA would like to restructure the Felony Division by replacing the vacant Attorney IV, slot 0785-001 position with an Attorney I, and utilize the salary difference to create Felony Court Chiefs for the five district courts effective (March 1).”

San Marcos Record

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