Friday, January 9, 2009

Private Defender Program for Defendants with Mental Illness

Texas Lawyer has this update on new model for legal representation in Lubbock ("First Private Criminal Defender Program in Texas to Commence," January 8, 2009):

"A first-of-its-kind program in Texas is scheduled to open Jan. 15 in Lubbock, providing specially trained private practitioners to represent indigent criminal defendants who are mentally ill or retarded.

Philip Wischkaemper , a Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (LCDLA) member who helped develop the program, says, 'It's the first private defender service in the state.'

Private attorneys appointed by the director of the Lubbock Special Needs Defenders' Office, a nonprofit corporation formed by the LCDLA in October, will represent the indigent clients, says Lubbock solo Ted Hogan, a member of the corporation's board of directors.

On Dec. 22, the Lubbock County Commissioners Court approved a contract with the corporation to run the program. Precinct 4 Commissioner Patti Jones says the commissioners see the program as a way to ensure that jailed indigents with mental health issues receive legal assistance within 24 hours after they are arrested, so they can receive the services they need. 'That's been a void in the system,' Jones says.

On June 18, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense awarded a state-funded four-year grant totaling $419,360 to Lubbock County to set up the program.

David Slayton, Lubbock County's director of court administration, says the amount of state funding for the program will decrease in increments over the first four years of operations as the amount the county provides increases. In the fifth year, the county will assume full responsibility for funding the
program, Slayton says.

Hogan says the county will pay lawyers who represent mentally impaired clients, but the Special Needs Defenders' Office director will review the bills that the attorneys submit for payment.

Wischkaemper, the capital assistance attorney for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association , says a peer review committee will determine which attorney applicants qualify for appointments.

Attorneys seeking appointments through the new program must complete a minimum of 12 hours of continuing legal education on mental health issues in addition to CLE hours in criminal law, Wischkaemper says.

Earlier posts on this topic are available here,
here and here.

No comments: