Office of House Bill AnalysisS.B. 1781
By: Bivins
County Affairs


Current law requires a court to appoint one or more practicing attorneys to
defend any indigent person charged with a felony or misdemeanor punishable
by imprisonment.  The creation of a public defender's office could result
in better representation for indigent individuals at less expense to the
taxpayers.  Senate Bill 1781 authorizes the commissioners court of Potter
County to establish a public defender program and to appoint an attorney to
serve as public defender for indigent persons. 


It is the opinion of the Office of House Bill Analysis that this bill does
not expressly delegate any additional rulemaking authority to a state
officer, department, agency, or institution. 


Senate Bill 1781 amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to authorize the
commissioners court of Potter County to appoint an attorney to serve as
public defender.  The bill requires a public defender to represent each
indigent person who is charged with a criminal offense in Potter County or
is subject to proceedings involving delinquent conduct or conduct
indicating a need for supervision in the county.  The bill authorizes the
commissioners court to specify other types of cases in which the public
defender is authorized to represent indigent persons, and authorizes the
commissioners court to accept gifts and grants from any source to finance
an adequate and effective public defender program. 

S.B. 1781 authorizes the public defender to investigate the financial
condition of any person he or she is appointed to represent and requires
the public defender to report the investigation results to the appointing
judge.  The bill authorizes the judge to hold a hearing to determine if the
person is indigent and entitled to representation.  If at any stage of the
proceeding the judge determines that a conflict of interest exists between
the public defender and the indigent person, the bill authorizes the judge
to appoint another attorney to represent the person.  The bill provides
that such an attorney must be licensed to practice law in this state and is
entitled to compensation. 

S.B. 1781 sets forth eligibility requirements for appointment as a public
defender and authorizes a public defender to employ assistant public
defenders, investigators, secretaries, and other necessary personnel with
the approval of the commissioners court.  The bill provides that an
assistant public defender must be an attorney, and authorizes an assistant
public defender to perform the duties of a public defender.  The bill
prohibits a public defender or an assistant public defender from engaging
in the private practice of law. Provisions regarding the compensation of
personnel and the payment of office expenses apply to the public defender's


On passage, or if the Act does not receive the necessary vote, the Act
takes effect September 1, 2001.