Setting record straight
To the editor:
At the candidate forum on Monday night, Judge Tittle yet again repeated his claim that he spent approximately 40 percent less on court appointed attorney’s fees than the other district court. It is time to set the record straight about that claim.
The truth is that for the 2012-13 budget year, Judge Beacom had three death penalty cases and one death penalty trial, and Tittle didn’t. Death penalty cases are expensive. When you back out the death penalty expenses (almost all due to that one trial) the true numbers become clear.
In non-death penalty cases, Judge Tittle outspent Judge Beacom by $100,000.00 and resolved 120 fewer cases. For every non-death penalty case in the 2012-13 budget year, Judge Beacom spent an average of $534 per case and Judge Tittle spent $764 per case. That’s over 33 percent more per case (these numbers can be verified by documents at the county auditor’s office).
But it looks like Judge Tittle intends to mislead the voters as to how much he actually spends on court appointed attorneys.
Judge Tittle has complained that lawyers from surrounding counties flock to Hunt County to collect our allegedly exorbitant fees. Yet, when Judge Bench proposed a rule to require an attorney to live in or have their office in Hunt County to be eligible to be on the court appointed list, only one judge opposed it – Judge Tittle.
Let’s look at who has really worked to reduce indigent defense costs to the taxpayers. Death penalty case expenses cannot be accurately listed in a yearly budget because it isn’t a recurring standard cost. The expenses vary due to the number of cases indicted as well as the unique facts in each case.
Judge Bench brought the West Texas Capital Defense program to Hunt County and lobbied the Hunt County Commissioner’s Court to sign up for it. Now the county only pays a set fee to be in the program (like an insurance premium) which is a fraction of the cost of one death penalty case.
From now on, every death penalty case in Hunt County will be handled by the West Texas Capital Defense program and it only costs Hunt County the premium. If five death penalty cases are indicted, the program has to pay for its staff lawyers and investigators to do those cases. As a lawyer who has worked on three death penalty cases, I supported Judge Bench in his efforts because it benefitted Hunt County.
This program will save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars (and possibly millions) in court appointed attorney’s fees.
Too many people have blindly accepted Judge Tittle’s statements on these issues. I hope that this sets the record straight.
Katherine A. Ferguson