Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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November 8, 2011

Burn ban expires

Commissioners talk indigent defense

ATHENS — The Henderson County Commissioners Court allowed the burn ban to expire Tuesday, despite a high reading on the Keetch-Bynum Drought Index.

 Even as the commissioners were preparing to vote, weather radar was showing strong rainstorms in North Texas on a path to enter the county.

  Fire Marshal Darrell Furrh was not present at the meeting, but sent word to County Judge Richard Sanders that the drought index was 645 on Monday, well above the 575 threshold that the county often uses in setting a burn ban. Furrh said he could not recommend lifting the ban with the fire danger still high.

  Precinct 2 County Commissioner  Wade McKinney said time is running out to lift the ban before a killing frost comes and makes the fire danger even greater, with plenty of dead vegetation to provide fuel. Pct. 3 Commissioner Ronny Lawrence agreed and stated that early weather forecasts are calling for a low of about 32 degrees on Friday.

  McKinney urged citizens to be cautious in their burning and choose the morning hours, when the humidity is higher and dew is on the ground, to build fires. Lawrence said citizens should avoid burning in windy conditions.

  Commissioners also authorized application for the FY2012 Indigent Defense Formula Grant which reimburses counties for a portion of the costs incurred for the appointment of attorneys in criminal cases. Jennifer Nicholson of the Auditor’s Office said the county has applied for the grant for many years. In recent years the county has received amounts ranging from $54,000 to $118,000.

  McKinney said the state is a state-mandated cost the county must pay to provide attorneys for low-income defendants who go through the criminal justice system. The grant is administered under provisions of the Texas Fair Defense Act, designed to reform indigent defense in Texas.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court established that indigent persons accused of a crime in a state court had the right to court-appointed counsel. Many states and jurisdictions created public defender offices, in which an attorney’s sole job was defending the indigent.

  Texas took a slightly different approach than other states. Senate Bill 7 funneled the responsibility down to the counties to help supply legal counsel for indigent defense, with the promise that the state would help pay for it. McKinney said that help turned out to be only a fraction of the total cost.

  Since 2008, the indigent defense cost for the county has been $1.4 million, $1.5 million, $1.3 million and 1 million. Lawrence said the amount spent on indigent defense was close to the amount the county spends on a road and bridge precinct each year.

    In other action, Commissioners voted to pay bills in the amount of $95,004.


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