Potter County considering public defenders office - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Potter County considering public defenders office

Source: KFDA Source: KFDA

Potter County is revisiting the idea of adding a public defenders office.  

That entity would staff full time criminal defense attorneys who would take the place of private attorneys in Potter County who are court-appointed on a rotating basis.

Potter County Commissioner Alphonso Vaughn is proposing a committee be formed to study if a public defenders office is a good choice for the county.

"To appoint the best defense representation of individuals within the county," said Vaughn. "Obviously some of the court appointed attorneys are good attorneys and able, but I think...we could have a systematic dedicated office that that's entirely what they do."

This is at least the fourth time the commissioners court has brought up the discussion of creating a public defenders office, and Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner said all the previous proposals were turned down because of cost.

The county spent more than $1 million last year paying court-appointed defense attorneys, and a public defenders office is expected to cost much more.

Several Amarillo defense attorneys are concerned such an office would hurt clients.

"You're going to end up costing more money in the end," said attorney Steven Denny. "With poor attorneys you'll get poor service. If you overwork those attorneys they're not going to get to the clients. That's going to result in lawsuits against the county if the county is administering a public defenders office. You're going to have very expensive civil rights lawsuits if you don't do it right."

"A lot of crimes that are being committed are by more than one person in this county," said 47th District Attorney Randall Sims. "When the public defenders office takes one of those people, they're not going to be able to represent the others, so they'll still have to have the court-appointed system in place also."

Denny said a public defenders office would "tragically fail" in Potter County.

Sims said the finances are not in order to be able to afford a public defenders office, but said it's worth discussing for the sake of transparency.

This study proposal will be discussed at the next Potter County Commissioners Court meeting on October 23rd.

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