GATESVILLE — Coryell County contracted with a Gatesville law firm to provide mental health defense services for indigent defendants under a state grant.
The Place Law Office, consisting of attorneys Allen and Tonya Place, will be paid $8,500 a month for nine months — a total of $76,500 — to represent indigent misdemeanor defendants who are flagged with mental health issues.
The firm also will accept initial appointment on indigent felony defendants flagged with mental health issues except in capital murder cases.
After 45 days on the felony cases, the firm may continue as co-counsel to stay on case management support for mental health issues.
District Judge Trent Farrell and County Court-at-Law Judge John Lee screened applicants for the pact and selected the Place firm. The contract is part of a mental health defender program developed under a multiyear discretionary grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for $93,525 for which the county was approved in September.
In addition to the monthly fee, the contract provides reimbursement to the firm for expenses including investigation, expert witnesses and mental evaluations by psychologists or psychiatrists.
The attorneys will not be county employees but independent contractors.
The defendants — not the county — will be the firm’s clients and the lawyers are prohibited from releasing confidential attorney-client information.
The law firm, which Allen Place started in 1979, has offices in Gatesville, Copperas Cove and Austin.
Place served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1990 to 1999.
When selecting attorneys for the contract, the judges emphasized the need for a firm with an office in Copperas Cove from which most of the indigent cases come, said County Judge John Firth.
Firth said the county hopes the legal services program will join with efforts to provide mental health respite care under a Section 1115 Medicaid waiver that will provide $1.50 in federal matching funds for each $1 of local money.
An eight-bed mental health respite care center in the old county hospital in Gatesville opened last month under the federal waiver program after the county spent $44,000 remodeling a wing of the building.
Eldon Tietje, executive director of Central Counties Services, which manages the Gatesville center, said the mental health defender program could provide a “hand-in-glove arrangement” for staff at the crisis center.