Category Archives: Texas

TX: Sequestration may mean layoffs in El Paso

From The El Paso Times:

The Albert Armendariz Sr. Federal Courthouse in El Paso — among the busiest in Texas because of the number of immigration and drug cases — may be forced to close two days a month if the federal government continues to trim budgets in the next fiscal year, attorneys in El Paso said.

The government’s sequestration has affected civil and criminal trials, public defenders and attorneys, but continuing budget cuts in the face of immigration reform could cut courthouse jobs and increase criminal caseloads.

Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, which includes El Paso, said cuts to her office may lead to judges appointing more expensive Criminal Justice Act, or CJA, attorneys, who are usually attorneys in private practice who also make themselves available for federal appointments to cases.

“Our program throughout the U.S. is threatened to its very core if we do not get funding relief in Fiscal Year 2014. The cuts to my budget will result in fewer employees in the El Paso office and fewer cases we could handle.” Franco said the cost shifting from federal public defenders to appointed attorneys will end up costing the U.S. taxpayers “much more money.”

Because of the cuts, the Federal Public Defender’s Office has had to institute 12 furlough days, resulting in a 10 percent pay cut, and has cut funding available for CJA attorneys.

The effects of sequestration have also trickled down to legal nonprofit organizations such as Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which recently had to lay off six employees, or one-fourth of its total staff, and has had to reduce work hours from 40 hours a week to 35 hours a week.

Read the entire piece.

Texas may throw out thousands of drug cases

Thousands of Texas drug convictions may be overturned after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a drug examiner’s methods were unreliable. According to Houston’s KTRK:

“What the court said was we can’t trust those results anymore,” Harris County Public Defender Alex Bunin said.

It all started last year. A state crime lab examiner was fired when investigators found repeated mistakes in how he was analyzing drug evidence. The examiner had worked on thousands of cases between 2006 and 2012.

Now, a judge has ruled that anybody who has been convicted based on the now-suspect evidence has a right to a new trial, or maybe even a dismissal.

The district attorney’s office will be looking at each conviction individually.

“If their cases were tested by this chemist, and that’s the sole evidence against them, then they’re in the position to seek relief,” Bunin said.

Maybe this will lighten a few public defender caseloads for a little while…