Texas, which executes more convicts than any other state, will open its first defense office next year to manage appeals for death row inmates after years of reports that appointed private attorneys repeatedly botched the job, reports the Houston Chronicle. “The status quo has been an international embarrassment,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, who sponsored the law that created the office. It was supported by an unusual alliance between the State Bar of Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals and public defense advocates.
The law was inspired by stories about Texas inmates who lost crucial appeals after court-appointed attorneys missed deadlines or filed only so-called “skeletal” writs with little information often copied from other cases. It represents a significant reform for Texas, one of the only capital punishment states that lacks a public defender to oversee key death row appeals known as state writs of habeas corpus. The office, with a budget of 1 million and a staff of nine, won’t open soon enough to help inmates whose rights were squandered recently.