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Houston County Courts

By: Erika Kurre
By: Erika Kurre

Houston County's new system of public defense could soon be used throughout the state of Alabama.

In the past two years, Houston County has saved millions of dollars and has caught the attention of the Supreme Court.

Two years ago, Houston County courts had appointed attorneys for indigent defendants who could not afford their own lawyer.

With that system, the county was spending close to $2.3-million each year on defense lawyers, which is more than triple what was spent on prosecutors.

So in January 2004, the majority of the county's circuit judges decided to hire indigent defense attorneys under contract, paying them a set amount of dollars each year, on the same budget the district attorney works with.

So with each new case that was brought to court, a contract attorney handled the defense and appointed attorneys are becoming fewer and fewer.

Houston County is the only county in the state that has changed the system.

And after proving its effectiveness, a supreme-court-appointed committee has come up with a bill to improve the indigent defense fund, statewide.

42-other states in the country have already adopted the contract system and have found it to be a workable solution to excessive spending.

Judge White expects the state's bill to pass within the next five years.


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