Potter and Armstrong counties continue working on restructuring their defense counsel system

VIDEO: Potter and Armstrong counties continue working on restructuring their defense counsel system

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - Potter and Armstrong counties continue working on restructuring their criminal justice systems because there are not defense attorneys to handle the caseload, leading to a backlog of cases.

They have paired up with NDS, a non-profit that would bring lawyers to the area, to provide counsel in a timely manner to people in jail who cannot afford a lawyer.

However, the Potter County commissioners court today met to rethink their partnership with the non-profit after becoming aware of the organization’s plans to launch a police accountability program.

Many on the commissioner’s court say they would have liked to have been informed of the police accountability program.

On the other hand, the non-profit says it was a miscommunication, as the police accountability program would not pertain to Potter and Armstrong counties.

“You’re not going to see PACE staff or PACE activities within the county. Those activities really are directed towards larger urban centers and it is also completely separate fiscally, there are no Potter County dollars or TIDC dollars that would be spent at all on the TIDC program,” said Matt Knecht, chief of Staff at NDS or Neighborhood Defender Service.

Now, Potter County officials are awaiting approval on a grant to afford bringing in some type of defense counsel office even if it is not NDS.

“They explained themselves and we decided to let it go with what we are doing so far. So, we are just going to let it go through and basically, we are waiting on the money to come from TIDC,” said Potter County Judge, Nancy Tanner “And then we are going to decide if we are going to go with NDS or go with a MAC ourselves. Or we can come up with out own plan and go through TIDC and do it ourselves. So we are going to just weigh the options there.”

If they do decide to scrap this program and go in a different direction, it will delay the process by at least another year.

Meanwhile people are still being jailed and cases continue to pile up.

When this issue first started years ago, the county had 30 attorneys, right now they are down to 11.

The 108th District Court Judge, Doug Woodburn, expressed his frustration saying he gets 50 to 80 new indictments every month and has 340 cases left over from from COVID. He adds he can do a lot but he cannot do it with 11 lawyers.

The Commissioners Court has until next Friday to make a decision of starting over.

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