Public defender fee increase could raise taxes, force county budget cuts

Updated: Thursday, March 27 2014, 09:09 PM MDT
Public defender fee increase could raise taxes, force county  budget cuts story image

By: Bill Melugin

EL PASO, Texas – The El Paso County Council of Judges reaffirmed its desire to raise indigent attorney fees $15 per hour at a meeting on Thursday. The change is set to begin on April 1, and would raise out-of-court fees to $75 per hour, and in-court fees to $90 per hour.

"There was no motion of any sort to rescind or take back or modify or postpone it,” said District Judge Patrick Garcia.
 
That’s despite the fact that county commissioners have repeatedly warned the council they don’t have the money to support their proposal.
 
"We want to put the judges on notice that after our multiple requests that they reconsider the costly decision they made to increase legal fees, we want to remind them that means half a million dollar hit to the organization and the taxpayer in the middle of a budget year,” said County Judge Veronica Escobar. “Every year thereafter, that's one million dollars at least, and over a decade, that's a little over a 3.5 cent tax increase to taxpayers, just for the fee increase alone.”
 
But Escobar told KFOX14 the idea of raising taxes is simply unacceptable.
 
"We are not willing to raise taxes to fund this, so what does that mean? It means we immediately have to go into budget cuts,” Escobar said. "They need to be aware that all departments, whether they be run by elected officials, all department budgets will be on the table.”
 
A recent study by Commissioner Vince Perez found that the cases aren’t being spread out to the indigent attorneys evenly.
 
Perez found that a group of roughly 30 attorneys out of more than 130 were receiving the bulk of the cases, and more than 50 percent of the funds.
 
Because of this, he has asked for a state audit of El Paso’s indigent defense system.
 
Garcia said the decision not to rescind the increase wasn’t affected by that request.
 
“It has nothing to do with it, we have absolutely no problem with the audit, it's not an issue or concern for us,” he said.
 
Garcia believes the raise in fees are needed to ensure those who can’t afford representation get a quality attorney. He said the fee increase would only start with cases starting on or after April 1.
 
The council gets the final decision, and despite the fact that county commissioners have protested it, there really isn’t anything they can do about it.
 
"It's really frustrating because we go through a transparent open process every year called budget hearings, members of the media, members of the public come and sit here, and watch our meetings,” Escobar said. "To have a mid-year, unbudgeted decision hit the organization this way, it's not just costly, it's harmful.”
 
Escobar told KFOX14 that every county employee is underpaid, and she doesn’t believe attorneys should get special treatment at the expense of the taxpayers.
 
"When you put a premium on one group, not only does that mean the existing folks won't get compensated, it's going to mean they're going to see a reduction in their salary, it's going to impact everyone in this building,” Escobar said.


 

Public defender fee increase could raise taxes, force county budget cuts
comments powered by Disqus

El Paso Times Headlines

ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann wears Chihuahuas Bark in the Park uniform on TV
ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann, who hosts his own nightly TV show named after him, wore an El Paso Chihuahuas uniform Wednesday night.
Tiempo Roundup: Prince Royce, Elmer's Family Restaurant, Fernando Varela
Prince Royce, Elmer's Family Restaurant, Fernando Varela
Well to be replaced to improve Ascarate Lake's low water levels
The county will replace a 40-year-old well to help fix low water levels at Ascarate Lake. On Thursday, Public Works Director Ernie Carrizal requested Commissioners Court to authorize the purchasing
Tiempo Calendar: Movies in the Canyon, San Elizario ghost tour, Meet the mascots

Michael Martin Murphey: The country music singer-songwriter with his hits, "A Long Line of Love" and "What's Forever For," will perform 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at Mountain Annie's, 2710 Sudderth, Ruidoso, N.M. $35, $45. 575-808-9336.

Popular Latin music superstar Prince Royce to take over El Paso County Coliseum
When Prince Royce takes the stage, the chants begin, the cheers become deafening and the girls start to swoon. His concerts easily sell out and the crowds jam into every venue, and this young Latin music superstar is never intimidated, but always humble.
New Fighting Deuce commander focuses on train-up for upcoming deployment
Lt. Col. Bill Parker, a new Patriot battalion commander, is a die-hard football fan, and he couldn't help but use a metaphor from his favorite sport to describe his unit's main emphasis right now.
Two Sikh men seeking asylum have court hearing in El Paso
A U.S. immigration court agreed to a change of venue for a man from India who is seeking U.S. asylum and ordered a continuance in the case of second man's case Thursday in El Paso.
El Paso man convicted of pointing laser at DPS helicopter
An El Paso man could serve up to five years in federal prison after a jury in U.S. District Court convicted him on a charge of pointing a laser at an aircraft, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Thursday.
Public Service Board to discuss city of El Paso's proposed water fee increase
The city's proposal to increase the revenues it receives from the El Paso Water Utilities — a cost which is then passed down to customers — has raised some concerns among the board that oversees the utility.
El Paso business owners get top awards from Texas Hispanic chamber group
Two El Paso business owners have been named Texas businessman and businesswoman of the year by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce, the El Paso Hispanic Chamber announced
Bliss briefs: Oktoberfest run set for Sept. 13, benefits MWR, charity
The 21st annual FirstLight Federal Credit Union German American Oktoberfest Night Run will be at 6 p.
Editorial: Congress heads to break, punts on the border
Republicans and Democrats agreed that Congress would look foolish if it began its August recess without passing legislation to deal with the influx of Central American migrants, many of them children, to the South Texas border with Mexico.
Southwest Kiwanis convention takes place in El Paso
Kiwanis, a global organization that helps children, will have its Southwest District convention in El Paso on Friday and Saturday, a member said.
Restaurant review: El Paso staple Elmer's Family Restaurant worth first (second, third, fourth) visit
I've rediscovered a breakfast favorite. From a fluffy and flavorful omelet to a crispy and tasty waffle sandwich, Elmer's Family Restaurant in East Central El Paso still gets breakfast right.
New cavalry commander with 4th Brigade looking forward to trip to NTC
A trip to the National Training Center is an "unparalleled" experience that can cause a unit and its soldiers to reach their potential, said the new cavalry squadron commander with 4th Brigade.

Top Stories

Come back often for updates of top national, state and local El Paso area news stories. KFOX covers topics including politics, crime, sports, entertainment, health, economy and other news related subjects. KFOX is dedicated to providing the best, timely and up to date news reporting for El Paso and New Mexico.

Talkers

advertisement
KFOX14 El Paso - Live Cast Watch live broadcasts of KFOX14 News seven days a week!
advertisement
advertisement