HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – Hays County has been trying to get a public defender’s office for three years now. Currently, court appointed attorneys are assigned cases.
Myles Martin was one of those assigned a court appointed attorney when he was incarcerated at the Hays County Jail on a burglary charge.
“I spent 30 months… 30 months in jail for something I didn’t do. When I say frustrating, that’s an understatement,” Martin said.
While in jail, Martin said nearly a year would go by before he’d hear from his attorney. He ended up going to trial and was found innocent.
But he said the two and a half years he spent waiting is time he can’t get back.
“My uncle passed away, I couldn’t go to his funeral. My relationship with my kids… can’t really come back from that. My daughter was 2 when I was arrested. Now she’s 5,” Martin said.
Licensed attorney Erica Galeon moved to Texas from California where she was working at a public defender’s office. She said there’s no comparison between the resources they have versus a court appointed attorney.
“They are individual attorneys working in their individual capacity doing these court appointed cases,” Galeon said.
She said she’s seen firsthand the difference a public defender’s office can make.
“You have that opportunity to pick at different brains to pick at different levels of experience and wisdom that will help you better defend your clients,” Galeon said.
Karen Muñoz, co-founder of Mano Amiga, agreed.
“You’re working together. It’s a team. It’s just more resources,” Muñoz said.
She’s been pushing the Hays County Commissioners Court to bring a public defender’s office to the county for years now.
“If I’m a private defense attorney then I only have myself and I can go to the court and ask for an investigator and I can go to the court and ask for an immigration expert for example if I need that. But if you’re in a public defender office that already has that, that the county is paying for. Clearly the resources are more consolidated and there’s just a team of people working to make sure things are done,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz said back in May of 2022, commissioners selected Neighborhood Defender Services as the firm to run the public defender’s office.
“We’re gonna have a contract by August, is what they said. It’s October now. We remain hopeful. We do applaud the commissioners for listening to the community about how serious this is. And it is true that the commissioners have taken this seriously. But justice delayed is justice denied and it’s being delayed at least another month,” Muñoz said.
On Tuesday, the commissioners court decided to take action on the public defender’s office at their November 22 meeting.
Martin said once up and running, this would bring hope for those still behind bars, waiting for their day in court.
“It’ll put people in a better mindset. You got a lot of people walking around in jail right now that are just feeling hopeless,” Martin said.