Court of Commissioners to discuss creation of public defender’s office | Premium

Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller will lead a discussion on the possibility of opening a public defender’s office in Victoria County at the Commissioners Court on Monday.

The office would be responsible for providing legal representation to indigent defendants, Zeller said.

“It’s technically a state responsibility, but it’s been passed down to counties for implementation and payment in most counties,” he said.

In recent years, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission has made grants available to carry out this function through the establishment of an Office of the Public Defender, Zeller said.

Victoria County spends nearly $1 million a year on indigent criminal defense, Zeller said.

“It is possible that CDTI may be able to help with some of this financial burden,” he said.

Currently, Victoria County operates on a rotational system, he said, in which attorneys volunteer to provide their services to indigent defendants.

“One of the challenges has been how there are fewer and fewer people volunteering for these roles,” Zeller said. “It created a kind of challenge in the district courts.”

If the office is established, Zeller said, it should be developed as a regional office, not a county office.

“The programs that CDTI promotes and prioritizes are regional public defender offices where a county would partner with one or more neighboring counties to perform this function,” he said.

Zeller declined to speculate on which surrounding counties might be interested in this regional venture.

Cody covers the beat of business for the attorney. He can be reached at (361) 580-6504 or [email protected]

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