From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
June 4, 1999
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Senator Ellis Praises New Legislation to Improve Texas' Indigent Criminal Defense System
Senator, others call for Governor Bush to sign legislation

AUSTIN// -- Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today joined fellow legislators, county government officials, civil rights leaders, and other advocates to encourage Governor George Bush to sign Senate Bill 247, legislation to strengthen Texas' indigent criminal defense system.

"This is a great piece of legislation that will help bring Texas' indigent criminal defense system into the 21st Century," said Ellis. "I am proud to be joined today by leaders who have long recognized that poor people get poor representation in Texas."

Ellis was joined at the press conference by several members of the Texas Legislature. In addition, representatives of the Conference of Urban Counties, the County Judges and Commissioners Association, and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association appeared with Ellis to call for Bush to sign the bill. Also, representatives of MALDEF, the NAACP, LULAC, the AppleSeed Foundation, the G. I. Forum, the Texas Catholic Conference and other groups praised the legislation.

"Texas is taking an important step to ensure that minimal Constitutional requirements are met," said University of Texas Law School Dean Michael Sharlot, an expert on criminal law. "Confidence in our criminal justice system requires that we give both rich and poor defendants full access to the system, and that must include the prompt appointment of competent counsel for indigent defendants."

S. B. 247 would ensure an indigent criminal defendant is provided legal counsel within a certain period of time, gives county commissioners courts the authority to adopt formal procedures for indigent defense, allows counties to pool their resources to fund and create regional delivery systems, and provides for the Office of Court Administration to collect information regarding indigent criminal defense procedures and practice.

"This bill gives counties broad discretion to determine the best way to provide quality indigent representation," said Don Lee, executive director of the Conference of Urban Counties, a grouping of the state's most populous counties. "It does not mandate any change in current procedures and ensures that decisions about appointment of indigent counsel are made in the open light of day."

Senate Bill 247 is the most comprehensive measure to address the needs of Texas' indigent criminal defense system to be enacted in over a decade. The consensus legislation promotes local control and is permissive in scope, allowing counties the flexibility to determine which indigent defense delivery system best suits their needs. Many of the key aspects of this legislation were recommendations of exhaustive legislative interim studies.

"For over 30 years now, we as a nation have struggled with meeting the Constitutional requirements of due process for indigent people," said Clarissa Martinez, state director of the National Council of La Raza. "Texas has been slow to catch up -- Governor Bush has the opportunity to sign this bill and move us forward."

SB 247 was introduced in the Senate by Ellis and sponsored in the House by Representative Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen). It passed both the Senate and House unanimously. Governor Bush has until June 20th to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law.


Friday, June 4, 1999, 1:00 P.M., Austin, Texas

The Honorable Garnet Coleman State Representative, District 147 (Houston)
The Honorable Dora Olivo State Representative, District 27 (Rosenberg)
Morris Dees* Southern Poverty Law Center, Atlanta, Georgia
Dean Michael Sharlot, Professor Raoul Schonemann University of Texas School of Law
Jeff Pokorak St. Mary's University School of Law
Don Lee Conference of Urban Counties
Elizabeth Baird Hispanic Bar Association of Austin
Bill Beardall Texas Appleseed
J. Chrys Dougherty Texas Appleseed Board Member, Former Texas State Bar President
Deacon Doots Dufour Texas Catholic Conference
Heather Harris Texas IMPACT, Texas Conference of Churches
Keith Hampton Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
Clarissa Martinez National Council of La Raza
Gary Bledsoe Texas State Director, NAACP
Joe Sanchez, Jesse Gutierrez Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
Juan Mireles Texas GI Forum
Jim Allison Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association
(* written comments submitted)