Lubbock County owed more than $40 million by state

Lubbock County owed more than $40 million by state

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

From 2002 to 2017, Lubbock County has spent 50.5 million on indigent defense costs. The state has only paid back 6.3 million, which equals just twelve cents on the dollar. Last year, the county spent more than 4.2 million on it. Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill McCay believes tax payers are taking a sizable hit with the lack of funding.

"If the state were to fully fund indigent defense, we could potentially lower our tax rate in Lubbock County two and a half cents."

Jim Bethke, now with the Lubbock Private Defenders Office, worked for the Indigent Defense Commission for sixteen years. He says the court fees the state receives aren't being put to proper use. 

"The fees are being collected for the delivery of indigent defense services, which is a state and constitutional requirement. However the state is using that money to balance the state budget. I don't see how balancing the state budget is a legitimate criminal justice purpose."

Commissioner McCay believes the aggressive pursuit of more funding has been a significant factor.

"Because we have worked so hard and managed towards that, our expense and cost is about sixteen percent lower than other counties across the state."

In order to receive state money, counties need to meet basic requirements. 

 "They have to have a plan, they have to submit reports. They have to make assignments for counsel at a certain amount of time, so there are basic requirements. The Texas Indigent Defense Commission has a small, but elite staff to go out and monitor. They do desk reviews and see how well local jurisdictions are meeting these."

Bethke says the state has more than enough to fund the mandate.

"It is being short handed. Ideally, the state could fully fund this. In reference to the entire budget, it's probably less than one percent. The overall state budget is close to 200 billion. Some of these really poor counties don't really have the money to provide competent, qualified representation as our constitution requires," Bethke said. 

Although Bethke remains confident in the Indigent Defense Commission, he isn't ruling out litigation. 

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