GATESVILLE — Coryell County commissioners last week cleared the way for judges to contract with one of two local lawyers to provide mental health defense services under a state grant.

District Judge Trent Farrell and County Court-at-Law Judge John Lee asked commissioners to approve the offer of a contract with either of the two top applicants for the post: Allen Place and Lisa Kubala.

Commissioners approved the request Monday.

“The judges can consider the two applicants, develop a contract with one and come back to the commissioners” for approval, said County Judge John Firth.

In September, Coryell County received a fiscal year 2014 multiyear discretionary grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for $93,525 to develop a mental health defender program.

Program positions

Under the program, the county will contract with a private law firm to represent mentally ill indigent defendants in misdemeanor cases and provide mental health caseworker support to indigent defendants in felony cases. The grant provides positions for an attorney and a caseworker.

Firth said the offers from Place and Kubala were for less than the grant amount.

The two lawyers made the final cut in the selection process, Firth said, because they each have offices in Copperas Cove, where most of the indigent defendants are located.

Firth said the county hopes the program will dovetail 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 center staff.”

Respite care unit site

A second phase of the Medicaid waiver project is to find a site for a new 30-bed crisis respite care unit located near a hospital with psychiatric staff, such as Metroplex Hospital.

Tietje is working with the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation to find a suitable site for the larger center, possibly in the Narrows Business & Technology Park.

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