Press Release from State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
Thursday, June 14, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Perry Signs Landmark Texas Fair Defense Act

New Law Overhauls Texas' Indigent Criminal Defense System

(Austin)//Governor Rick Perry today signed into law the Texas Fair Defense Act, landmark legislation to overhaul Texas' indigent criminal defense system. Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), author of the legislation, praised Governor Perry's action.

"I am extremely pleased by Governor Perry's decision to sign the Texas Fair Defense Act into law," said Senator Ellis. "With today's signature, Texas has taken an historic stand for fairness. The Texas Fair Defense Act balances the scales of justice to ensure that poor Texans are not sentenced to a poor defense."

Texas' criminal justice system has been the focus of national and international criticism, particularly the lack of standards and state oversight of attorneys appointed to represent indigent defendants. The Texas Fair Defense Act addresses this criticism by focusing on four critical issues -- timely appointment of counsel, method of counsel appointment by the courts, reporting of information about indigent representation services, and minimum standards for counsel. The legislation also creates a task force within the Judicial Council to recommend further improvements and direct funding to assist counties in the improvements.

Senate Bill 7 ensures prompt appointment of an attorney for indigent criminal defendants in Texas. The legislation gives courts three options of appointment - a rotation or "wheel" system, a locally-controlled public defender system, or an alternate fair system designed by the judges in the county and approved by a regional presiding administrative judge. The legislation ensures ultimate decision making remains with judges and counties while providing necessary state input and oversight. Senate Bill 7 also requires counties and judges to collect and report information to the state on indigent criminal defense procedures and expenditures.

Senator Ellis has led the fight to reform Texas' indigent criminal defense system. The Texas Fair Defense Act is the product of nearly two years of bipartisan collaboration between legislators, the State Bar, district judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and reform groups to provide indigent Texans with timely, adequate counsel at trial.

"A lot of Texans were embarrassed by the problems in our criminal justice system revealed over the past two years," said Ellis. "The Texas Fair Defense act is not a magic potion that will cure all of those ills, but it is a significant first step toward creating a criminal justice system that Texans can be proud of."