The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

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February 13, 2014

Fact checking the 196th District Judge debate

GREENVILLE — During the forum conducted Monday at the Landmark, cosponsored by the Herald-Banner and the Hunt County GOP Club, 196th District Judge candidates Steve Tittle and Andrew Bench debated four questions, and also delivered opening and closing statements. During the course of the forum, several statements were made that, upon conducting further research, are inaccurate or misleading.

Indigent defense attorney costs per hour: Hunt County pays attorneys representing indigent defendants $100 an hour. Collin County pays attorneys representing indigent defendants in misdemeanor cases between $75 and $125 per hour.

These rates can be found on page 13 of the Collin County Indigent Defense Plan, available on the county’s website. Kaufman County uses a hybrid system. While there is a public defender’s office in Kaufman County, judges can, at their discretion, appoint attorneys to represent indigent defenses. The fee schedule, which is available on the Texas Indigent Defense Commission’s website (http://www.txcourts.gov/tidc) states that attorneys are paid $95 in court and $75 out of court.

According to the Rockwall District and County Court Attorney Fee Schedule, which is available for download on their website, attorneys receive $50 per hour out of court and $75 per hour while in court for indigent defense.

The last time the rate at which Hunt County pays defense attorneys are compensated was voted on was in 2010. According to 354th District Judge Richard Beacom and Hunt County records, there have been no votes regarding defense attorney rates since 2010.

Probation department surplus account: At the end of their two year fiscal biennium on Aug. 31, 2011, the Hunt County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD) had $485,016 in their reserve fund, according to a report compiled by Hunt County CSCD Executive Director Jim McKenzie. In the next biennium, from Aug. 31, 2011 to Aug. 31, 2013, that surplus fund was reduced to $334,552.

According to McKenzie, an additional $101,534 was removed from that surplus account to make up for projected lost revenue to balance the budget. McKenzie said this was primarily done to offset the lost revenue from the 70+ probation fees waived by Tittle in 2013. The projected surplus amount at the end of the fiscal year (Aug. 31, 2014), according to McKenzie, is $233,018.

Hunt County is not obligated to make up any revenue lost by the Hunt County CSCD. The probation department is a judicial district, not a state, office. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website, CSCDs are under the authority of judicial district courts but receive partial funding through TDCJ.

“Although CSCDs receive funding from TDCJ-CJAD, they are not part of the division,” according to the TDCJ website. “They are organized within local judicial districts, from which they receive office space, equipment and other forms of support. Supervision department employees work for the judicial district. TDCJ-CJAD employees work for the state.”

According to McKenzie, the county provides $25,000 per year to pay for items that the department can not pay for with state money or money they generate themselves, such as furniture and utilities. Additionally, the money offsets the costs associated with collecting payments from probations that are designated to go toward restitution, court costs, fines, and attorneys’ fees, that the probation department collects on behalf of the county, according to McKenzie.

Cost per case in district courts: When combining all cases, the 354th District Court spends more money than the 196th District Court. However, according to a list compiled by the county auditor, when capital cases are removed from the equation, the 196th District Court spends more money per non-capital, indigent defense case than the 354th. Capital trials are typically much more expensive than non-capital trails.

In the Fiscal Year 2012-13, 196th District Judge Steve Tittle tried 569 cases to 354th District Judge Richard Beacom’s 685. Tittle’s cases averaged $764 per case, while Beacom’s averaged $534 per case.

The trend has continued from October through December 2013 (which constitutes the most recent data). Tittle’s cases averaged $1,277 per case, while Beacom’s averaged $536.

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