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Funds could be running out for public defender office

Thursday, February 28, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Time is running out for the Indigent Legal Services work group to obtain a Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant this year. In order to take full advantage of the available funding to be used for a public defender office, the group would need to submit its letter of intent to apply for the grant by March 11. To be considered, however, the letter needs signatures of Travis County criminal court judges and the approval of the Commissioners Court. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the judges will be willing to sign the letter at this point, unless the ILS group can create a compelling outline of how it will use the funds. The group has been working steadily to develop its plan since late December but has not had time to spell out the details yet. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the court last week that it should be possible to move forward even if the county did not receive the grant money this year, but the consequences of that situation were unclear. Roger Jefferies of Justice Planning clarified Tuesday that the result could mean less money available for the project. Unless the county submits an application this year, Jefferies said TIDC has indicated some of that money will probably go toward formula grants to be distributed across the state. Eckhardt said the county is “tap dancing as fast as we can” trying to develop the letter of intent to get the approval of all necessary parties. The ILS group needs to get the signatures before the court’s March 5 voting session for final approval.

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