Travis County, Tex., is actively working to lose its distinction as the largest local jurisdiction without a public defender. The Austin Chronicle reports that commissioners in the county that includes Austin voted to pursue a nearly $20 million, four-year grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to establish an office, despite last-minute infighting over continuing to maintain a sizable budget for private defense counsel.
Both the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the criminal court judges had raised objections that resulted in a plan to set aside roughly 30 percent of felony and misdemeanor cases for a public defender office, with the majority remaining in private lawyers’ hands. KUT reports that in advance of Friday’s grant application deadline, county officials scrambled to put together a plan that would win criminal court judges’ necessary approval. Austin is the nation’s 11th largest city and sits at the heart of the fastest growing large metro area in the nation for the past eight years.