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Funding secured for Public Defender’s Office in Hays County

Christopher Green | Staff Reporter

Hays County Commissioners Lon Shell and Debbie Ingalsbe held a press conference on April 12 to update the public on the status of the newly created Public Defender’s Office.

Hays County Commissioners recently allocated $5 million to implement the creation of a Public Defender’s Office in Hays County. The creation of the office started when local grassroots organization Mano Amiga approached the commissioners in Hays County to allocate funds for a Public Defender’s Office.

Photo of Mano Amiga Communications Director Sam Benavides, Mano Amiga Policy Director Eric Martinez, Hays County Commissioners Lon Shell and Debbie Ingalsbe. Photo credited to Christopher Green.

Mano Amiga began working toward the creation of a Public Defender’s Office three years ago and they are now seeing their efforts come to fruition. In a press release from Mano Amiga, Policy Director Eric Martinez said the organization will continue to work toward the creation of a Public Defender’s Office.

“Our team at Mano Amiga has been especially impressed with Commissioner Shell’s willingness to champion this cause and was blown away by his impassioned speech during the August meeting that resulted in the allocation of $5 million dollars towards a Public Defender Office. We are now excited to continue working alongside him to see its long-overdue implementation in the coming weeks,” said Martinez. 

During the press conference, Commissioner Ingalsbe said funds for the Public Defender’s Office have been secured.

“The funds have been secured and we also put money in for registration and pre-trial services that can enhance the services that we are going to provide to the Public Defender’s Office,” said Ingalsbe. 

Ingalsbe also said the commissioners’ court has received two respondents that submitted proposals to work toward the creation of a Public Defender’s Office.

During the press conference, Shell stated how Hays County being the fastest growing in the nation presents some problems to the Criminal Justice System that need to be addressed. 

Some of the problems Shell cited is getting representation for people in jail who suffer from mental illness as well as being able to address the current jail population in Hays County, which is around 650 people. Shell said the need for a Public Defender’s Office also comes from a backload of cases. 

“We have great attorneys that practice, we’re very lucky to be where we are between San Antonio and Austin, and we have really good defense attorneys practicing here. But that caseload has gotten to such a level that we need, we need some help, in my opinion.

Shell also said the creation of a Public Defender’s Office will improve the Criminal Justice System in Hays County. 

“I think the Public Defender’s Office is a step for us to move forward to find ways to improve our system in collaboration with all of those participants. Whether it’s judges and attorneys and prosecutors and clerks, and then also our community members,” said Shell. 

After sending a request for proposals from the Public Defender’s Office, Shell said they have gotten two respondents that they are working with. Shell said they are trying to find an organization that will help them bring someone in that can tailor to Hays County and specifically help people with mental issues. 

Shell said he hopes the commissioners’ court will be able to hold a discussion on April 26 to decide which organization they would like to bring in to create the Public Defender’s Office. Shell said part of the discussion will be going over building a contract for the creation of a Public Defender’s Office.

“Once that selection is made, the next step in the process is to develop the contract. What are the terms of their operation, accounting for how long? What does it cost? What does their staffing levels look like? How many attorneys are they going to have? How many attorneys are going to be mainly focused on felonies versus misdemeanors? What type of mental health experience will they have? What type of experience will they require from their attorneys and their staff?” said Shell.

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