Travis County service gives indigent clients top level defense

`Seal inside the Travis County Commissioners Courtroom.
Seal inside the Travis County Commissioners Courtroom.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite being homeless and a spending part of his life in the foster care system, Meechaiel Criner, 17, will have some of the best attorney representation taxpayer money can buy. The Capital Area Private Defender Service is a non-profit organization and joint-venture between Travis County, the Austin Bar Association and the Defense Lawyers’ Association and is designed to give indigent defendants the best, most fair defense possible in court.

“We are very lucky in Travis County to have a good system for appointed lawyers. You have to be qualified, you have to apply and it is a very rigorous demanding system,” said Mindy Montford, an attorney who is part of the service.

Ariel Payan will represent Criner and because it is a murder case, the service chose an attorney from what Montford called their “A-list,” a list of attorneys who have the highest credentials when it comes to experience. A-list attorneys handle the most serious offenses, according to Montford.

“You can ensure a person in Travis County is going to have a very good lawyer.”

CAPDS is a relatively new system. Previously, the court or judge would choose a lawyer for indigent defendants. But CAPDS is an organization with its own director and personnel to make sure defendants receive the best defense and that the attorneys involved are getting a fair share and case load to keep the system running smooth. And, the taxpayers pay for it to work that way. Experts and evaluations deemed necessary by the court are part of the service.

“If they qualify as indigent, those clients are just as entitled as someone who retained a private lawyer,” said Montford. “They are entitled to a private investigator, to mental health professionals and there is a fund for that and the county is going to pay the bill.”

KXAN tried to reach Payan on Monday, but so far, we have only been told he plans to meet Criner for the first time later in the week. Payan has defended other high-profile defendants such as Mark Norwood and Brandon Daniel.

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