By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
AUSTIN - Gov. Rick Perry announced Thursday Bell County Judge Jon Burrows' appointment to a state commission that oversees court-appointed defense attorneys.
Burrows will serve as a voice for counties in the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. Legislation created the commission in 2011, which held its first formal meeting Thursday. He and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley are the two county-level elected officials on the board.
"We watch closely and speak on the effects of the costs involved with indigent defense to make sure the best we can that the (state) dollars are sent to the counties as quickly as we can," said Burrows.
The commission replaces the Task Force on Indigent Defense, created in 2001 to establish statewide policies and funding mechanisms for counties. Burrows served on the task force since it was created, he said.
In 2011, the task force doled out more than $33 million to help counties mitigate the costs of paying defendants' attorney fees. Constitutional law guaranteeing the accused's right to an attorney cost Bell County $2.3 million last year.
About 28 percent - $653,299 - of that was paid with grant money received from the task force, according to the commission's website.
State and county tax dollars provided attorneys for 23 capital trials, 1,817 accused felons, 4,201 misdemeanors and 772 juvenile cases.
The 13-member commission includes five appointees from the governor, the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and several state legislators. The presiding judge of the court of criminal appeals, Sharon Keller, chairs the commission.
Burrow's appointed term will expire in February 2014.
The commission sends out most grant funding based on population data. Other grants are provided to counties with innovative programs regarding indigent defense, Burrows said.
Before it became a permanent commission, Burrows said one of the biggest success stories for the task force was the creation of a Regional Capital Defendants Association. The association essentially acted as a group insurance policy for rural counties where very limited amounts of money are available for indigent defense.
"The cost of one capital trial can bankrupt a small county," said Burrows.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.
Texas Indigent Defense Commission
House Bill 1754 during the 82nd legislative session created the commission and mandated the 13-member board develop policies and standards for providing legal representation and other defense services for indigent defendants at trial, on appeal and in post-conviction proceedings. It replaces the Task Force on Indigent Defense, which legislation created in 2001.
Ex officio members
Sharon Keller, chair - presiding judge, Court of Criminal Appeals
Wallace Jefferson - chief justice, Texas Supreme Court
Jeff Wentworth - state senator (R-San Antonio)
Robert Alonzo - state representative (R-Dallas)
Sherry Radack - judge, Court of Criminal Appeals
Alfonso Charles - judge, 124th District Court
John Whitmire - state senator (D-Houston)
Pete Gallego - chair of House Jurisprudence Committee
Olen Underwood, vice chair - presiding judge, 2nd Administrative Judicial Region
Jon Burrows - Bell County judge
Glen Whitley - Tarrant County judge
Knox Fitzpatrick - Dallas attorney
Anthony Odiorne - assistant public defender, Amarillo