Commissioners provide information about the public defender’s office, determine the date of taking measures under the contract

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A contract with the Hays County Public Defender’s Office (PDO) could be approved as early as November, marking a major milestone in the county’s ongoing efforts to streamline its criminal justice system.

Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, Pct. 1 told commissioners court Tuesday that the court is working with its vendor, Neighborhood Defender Services (NDS), to finalize the contract and processes, and NDS is “very eager” to get started.

“I understand it’s been a long time, but I think we’re very close to finalizing the contract,” she said.

Local advocacy group Mano Amiga and the Alliance of Public Defenders began lobbying for the PDO in 2019. Hays County Commissioners selected NDS from two RFP candidates and unanimously approved $5 million in ARPA funding for the office in May 2022.

During public comments at Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from Mano Amiga and the Vera Policy Institute urged commissioners to expedite approval of the contract.

Mano Amiga Policy Director Eric Martinez said the creation of the PDO would “[a] groundbreaking change in this community.”

“I can’t say that there are many people in this room who might disagree with each other,” Martinez said. “But we can agree that we all want to live in a safer and more just society.”

Sara Mignon of the Faith Institute also argued in favor of pushing the contract forward with “all due expediency.”

According to Mignon, there are currently more than 600 defendants in the Hays County Jail, 83% of whom are in pretrial detention.

“That’s almost 500 people … Sitting, waiting, their freedom hanging in the balance, depending on whether they get access to adequate and effective counsel,” she said.

Mignon concluded her thoughts by saying, “We know that across the country, a comprehensive public defender’s office like NDS is the gold standard.”

“Hayes County can be a leader along with many other counties in Texas that they’re opening offices in, so we want to support that effort,” Mignon said.

According to Hays general counsel Mark Kennedy, there are three main areas that need to be worked on before the contract can be finalized, including the contract itself, addressing referee issues and “working out the practical issue of how these PDOs are accepted and routed into the system “.

Kennedy clarified that there must be “clear, identifiable triggers” to determine whether public or private counsel is assigned to a particular case.

One example of a trigger, according to Kennedy, is Section 16.22 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which requires a sheriff or municipal jailer to inform a judge if he or she “receives credible information that may create reasonable grounds to believe that the defendant is mentally unfit.” illness”.

Kennedy also said that NDS will manage 20 to 30% of the total caseload in Hays County, “about half of which will be mental health cases.”

Commissioners agreed to return to action on the POD contract on November 22.

“While we are disappointed that the county is already three months past the deadline for completing the contract, we thank Commissioner Ingalsbe for ensuring that the effective agenda item is set for November 22,” she said. co-founder of Mano Amiga Karen Muñoz. “Our team will continue to advocate for our incarcerated neighbors and hope the county will seek community feedback before the contract is finalized.”

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