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Hays County shares wealth of indigent defense
The Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission voted Wednesday to modify the new Padilla Pilot Program and extend its services to other counties that don’t have a Padilla Attorney or a Public Defender Office.
Hays County was awarded $342,000 in grant funding from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) in 2019 to implement the pilot program. The Padilla Program provides expert assistance to defense attorneys counseling clients whose immigration status could be affected by a conviction. Through the Texas nonprofit myPadilla, defense attorneys are provided with an online platform to interview clients, submit secure intake forms and receive written advisory information individualized for each of their clients.
Large cities and counties generally have dedicated staff to inform defense attorneys handling these cases but most rural counties do not. The grant funds compensate the remote Padilla attorneys to extend those services to Hays and neighboring counties, and now will likely be extended to 26 additional counties should it pass in commissioners court.
Due to leftover funds, the county has been granted an extension of the grant for an additional 18 months after it was set to expire on Sept 30 and expand the resources to other counties.
In a letter from Judge Ruben Becerra to the TIDC he said, “We have been pleased to offer this remote tool for Padilla compliance to defense attorneys representing indigent defendants this year, and we look forward to expanding it to more areas of the state going forward.”
In other business, District Attorney Wes Mau also explained that the start of the new cite and release program at the county level will be delayed until Oct. 1 in coordination with the end of Supreme Court orders related to COVID-19. Mau said after talking to neighboring counties utilizing the program, he has hope this will be widely accepted by officers as another tool in their toolbox.
They also passed the recommendation for an additional pretrial bond officer, as there are currently two officers handling 735 cases. Normal caseloads for these positions were once closer to 240 cases per officer.
The vote solidified support for the item that is already included in the Commissioners Court recommended budget which will be voted on and adopted after a public hearing on Sept. 22 at 1 p.m.