Leon District Court Plan
Preamble
10/14/2015

STANDARDS AND PROCEDURE

 

 

The Board of Judges for the District Courts shall manage the appointment system. The Board will ensure that all indigents in need of appointed counsel are assigned an attorney in a timely manner and that the attorney establishes contact with the defendant. All applications for felony appointments shall be filed with the Local Administrative Judge. Records will be maintained on all attorneys in the system by the Board of Judges.  The Board of Judges will monitor compliance with the requirements and regulations of the Court appointment system. The Board of Judges shall maintain a system to ensure that attorneys on the appointment list are only given those appointments for which they are eligible (based on how the Judges have rated them).  Selection of attorneys to be placed on the appointment list will be by majority vote of the Judges of the 87th, 278th & 369th District Courts for Leon County, Texas.

Prompt Magistration
9/28/2015

 

 

 

Local law enforcement agencies shall ensure that persons arrested are taken before a Magistrate without unnecessary delay and not more than 48 hours after arrest unless the defendant bonds out of jail prior to said 48 hours.  If a person is in jail after being arrested without a warrant and the Magistrate has not determined probable cause within the time limits set forth in Art. 17.033, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, local law enforcement personnel shall comply with the requirements of that provision.

 

Persons in custody brought before a Magistrate shall be informed by the Magistrate of the right to request counsel under Article 15.17 Subsection (e) and (f) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.  A record will be made of these proceedings and shall be preserved as required by Article 15.17.


For persons arrested on out-of-county warrants, the magistrate will ask the defendant if he/she would like to request appointed counsel.  The magistrate will record the response, and if counsel is requested, the magistrate will provide the arrestee with the appropriate forms for requesting counsel.  The magistrate will ensure assistance in completing the forms at the same time.  The forms will be transmitted to the appointing authority in the county issuing the warrant within 24 hours of the request being made.  Regarding the appointment of counsel, persons arrested in other counties on local warrants must be appointed counsel in the county that issued the warrant within 1 working day of receipt of the request in counties with a population of 250,000 or more and within 3 working days of receipt of the request in counties under 250,000.  Persons arrested on out-of-county warrants must be appointed counsel in the county of arrest if the person has not been transferred or released to the custody of the county issuing the warrant before the 11th day after the date of the arrest. [Art. 1.051(c-1), CCP].

 

If the arrested person does not speak and understand the English language or is deaf, the Magistrate shall ensure that the information and assistance are provided with the assistance of an interpreter consistent with Articles 38.30 and 38.31 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

 

The judge making the appointment shall transmit the completed Order Appointing Attorney Form to the appointed attorney and defendant no later than 24 hours after the appointment is made. If a defendant is released on bond prior to appointment of counsel, an attorney shall be appointed during the first court appearance, after eligibility guidelines have been met.
Indigence Determination Standards
12/14/2009

Criteria and Procedures for Determining Indigence

 

a.       The magistrate shall interview defendants in jail after arrest for bond status and screen for the person’s ability to hire an attorney. If defendant requests appointed counsel, the Jail Administrator will provide the person with reasonable assistance to fill out the Request for Court Appointed Attorney Form and Indigence Form. The jail staff will fax a copy of the Magistrates Warning Form, Request For Court Appointed Attorney Form and Indigence Form to the Local Administrative Judge if the defendant is charged with a felony only. If the defendant is charged with both a felony and a misdemeanor the forms shall be faxed to the Local Administrative Judge only. If a determination of indigence is made, the Order Appointing Attorney Form will be approved by the District judge or their designee. 

 

b.      Indigence Standards:

 

1.      A defendant is considered indigent if the defendant’s household income does not exceed 150% of the Poverty Guidelines as established and revised annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the difference between the defendants’ monthly net income and reasonable necessary expenditures is less than $500. 

 

2.      A defendant is considered indigent if, at the time of requesting appointed counsel, the defendant, or the defendant’s dependents have been determined to be eligible to receive Food Stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, or public housing.

 

3.      A defendant is considered indigent if the defendant is currently serving a sentence in a correctional institution, is currently residing in a public mental health facility, or is the subject of a proceeding in which admission or commitment to such a mental health facility is sought, and has no assets or property in excess of the amounts specified above.

 

4.      A defendant who does not meet any of the financial standards above shall nevertheless be determined indigent if the defendant is otherwise unable to retain private counsel without substantial hardship to the defendant or the defendant’s dependents, taking into account the nature of the criminal charge(s), the anticipated complexity of the defense, the estimated cost of obtaining competent private legal representation for the matter charged, and the amount needed for the support of the defendant and the defendant’s dependents. 

 

If a defendant does not request an appointed attorney, the person will sign and date the Indigence Form at the appropriate top section indicating counsel is not requested. 

 

Minimum Attorney Qualifications
10/14/2015

General Qualifications for Court Appointed Attorneys

 

      a.       An attorney must have on file with the Local Administrative Judge a completed application approved by the Board of Judges. This form must be notarized. All attorneys on the appointment list must ensure all information on their application is correct and current.

-Attorneys must be approved by majority of judges to be placed on the appointment list [Art. 26.04, CCP].

      b.   An attorney must be a licensed practicing attorney and a member in good standing of the State Bar of Texas.

      c.   An attorney must reside within the territorial jurisdiction of the 87th, 278th, and 369th Judicial Districts, or if residing in an adjoining county outside the district, shall maintain an office within Leon County. An exception to the residency rule may be made due to language skills or other special skills that the Board of Judges decide would be a benefit to the program or for other good and sufficient reasons determined by the Judges. The residency requirements do not apply to appeal or mental health categories.

      d.       An attorney shall attend any CLE course required by the Board of Judges.

      e.      An attorney shall complete a minimum of ten hours of CLE in the area of criminal law and procedure each year. All attorneys on the appointment list must file a certificate with the Local Administrative Judge each year attesting to completion of the required CLE.

      f.   An attorney must have a secretary, receptionist, answering service, or a regularly monitored answering machine or voice mail system. An attorney must have a functioning fax machine in their home or office to receive court appointments and notices regarding procedural changes. In addition, an attorney must respond promptly to a phone call from the Court.

      g.   An attorney must have the ability to produce typed motions and orders.

      h.    An attorney shall notify the Local Administrative Judge promptly, in writing, of any matter that would disqualify the attorney by law, regulation, rule or under these guidelines from receiving appointments to represent indigent defendants.

 

      i.    An attorney shall submit by October 15th each year a statement for each county that describes the percentage of the attorney's practice time that was dedicated to work based on appointments accepted in that county for adult criminal cases and juvenile delinquency cases for the prior 12 months that begins October 1 and ends September 30. The report must be submitted through the online form to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. An attorney who fails to submit the report may be suspended or removed from the court appointment list. 

 

Qualifications for Mental Health Court Appointed Attorneys

 

a.       Must have met the General Qualifications.

 

b.      An attorney applying for mental health court appointments must have served in a county or district attorney’s office for at least two years or have practiced criminal defense law on a regular basis for a minimum of two years.

 

c.      An attorney must have the recommendations of at least two judges who believe the applicant is qualified to represent defendants with mental health issues.

 

d.     An attorney must have been lead counsel in at least 3 mental health cases (whether misdemeanor or felony) with one of the following issues presented: competency, sanity or court ordered mental health treatment.  The styles and cause numbers of these cases must be listed in the appointment application form.

 

e.      An attorney must have received 3 hours of CLE in mental health criminal issues or receive training within 3 months of placement on the list.


 

f.      An attorney must be knowledgeable concerning criminal law and the Texas Mental Health Code.


Qualifications for Felony Court Appointed Attorneys

 

a.         Must have met the General Qualifications.

 

b.        An attorney must have served in a county or district attorney's office for at least two years or have practiced criminal defense law on a regular basis for a minimum of two years.

 

c.        An attorney must have the recommendations of at least two judges who believe the applicant is qualified to represent defendants charged with felony offenses.

 

d.        An attorney must have been lead counsel in at least 3 misdemeanor jury trials or first or second chair in at least two felony jury trials.  The styles and cause numbers of these cases must be listed in the District Courts appointment application form.

 

e.         To be assigned appeals an attorney must have prior appellate experience.

 

f.          Movement of an attorney on the felony list to a higher category on the list shall be by letter of request to the Local Administrative Judge and will be reviewed by the District Judges along with new applications twice each year. The letter should include information regarding the meeting of requirements for the appropriate list.

 

Felony Criminal Defense Attorney Rating System

 

a.       Attorneys on the appointment list shall be divided into five categories based on experience and competency. The criminal district judges shall do this evaluation when the applicant applies to be on the list and on a periodic basis thereafter.

 

1.     Capital - Most experienced. Criteria set by Second Administrative Judicial Region.

 

2.     Category A – Significant experience with all phases of a criminal practice including aggravated and first degree felony jury trials as lead counsel; very knowledgeable concerning criminal law and procedure, and capable trial lawyer.

 

3.     Category B – Experience trying misdemeanor and some felony trials to a jury and before the court and second-chairing serious felony cases; experience trying other contested matters such as felony pre-trials and probation revocations; capable and knowledgeable but lacking experience in serious/aggravated felony cases.

 

4.     Category C – Knowledgeable concerning criminal law and procedure and possessing trial skills but lacking significant felony trial experience.  Some jury trial experience in misdemeanors and, at least as second chair, in felonies.

 

5.     Appellate – Knowledgeable concerning criminal law and procedure and appellate procedure; prior experience analyzing appellate records and filing criminal appeals.

 

6.  Special Case Category - Occassionally a case will be presented that poses questions of unusual novelty or difficulty that will require an attorney with exceptional expertise, experience and/or knowledge whose name is not listed under categories 1-5 and who does not normally seek or request court appointed cases.  The courts reserve the right to appoint such attorneys, if they agree, to such cases.

  

b.      Factors Judges consider in their evaluation:

 

1.      Competence, diligence, and skill

2.      Membership in State Bar Criminal Law and Procedure Section

3.      Experience in District or County Attorney's Office

4.      Experience in any county or district attorney's office

5.      Years actively engaged in the practice of criminal law

6.      Certification as a criminal law specialist

7.      Attendance at advanced criminal law courses

                              8.   Special skills
Prompt Appointment of Counsel
9/28/2015

Appointment of Counsel

 

The Judges or their designees shall appoint counsel no later than the end of the third working day after the date on which the appointing judge receives the defendant’s request for counsel. 


If an indigent defendant is arrested in another county based on this county's warrant, counsel will be appointed within three working days of this county's receipt of the request for counsel.  If a defendant is arrested in this county based on another county's warrant, counsel will be appointed for the defendant if, on the eleventh day after the arrest, the defendant is still in this county's custody.


If a defendant wishes to request counsel prior to the initial appearance, the forms required to request counsel may be obtained at the Texas Indigent Defense Commission's website at http://tidc.tamu.edu/public.net/  or from or from the Leon County website or from the Indigent Defense Coordinator.  The defendant may submit these forms to the Indigent Defense Coordinator.  The court will rule on all requests for counsel submitted in this manner.

 

With regard to persons out of custody, counsel must be appointed at defendant's first court appearance or when adversarial procedings are initiated, whichever comes first.  Unrepresented defendants will be advised of the right to counsel and procedures for obtaining counsel.

 

Duties of Newly Appointed Attorney

 

a.     Court-appointed attorneys will be notified of their appointment by fax or email. The attorney shall  make a reasonable effort to contact the defendant by the end of the first working day after the date of the appointment.  Reasonable effort includes letter, fax, phone, or personal visit.

 

b.    In felony cases, Court appointed attorneys shall visit all appointed clients incarcerated at the County jail in person at their earliest possible time and in no case shall that initial visit be later than three days from notification of assignment.

 

Attorney Selection Process
10/28/2010

Attorney Appointment Method

 

a.       Appointments shall be made using a rotation system following an alphabetical listing of the names of the eligible attorneys. When the end of the list is reached, the process will begin again starting with the first name on the list.  

 

b.      A judge may elect to appoint an attorney, without using the rotation system, to a defendant, when the judge finds it is in the best interests of all parties concerned.  The judge making such appointment shall make a finding setting forth the reason for such appointment. 

 

c.      The judges shall maintain a list of attorneys who are eligible to receive court appointments. The Local Administrative Judge will maintain records on disciplinary actions on attorneys by the Judges.

 

d.      The Local Administrative Judge shall solicit applications for new attorneys twice each year (one month in the spring and fall), with the exception of the Mental Health court appointed attorneys, receive requests from lawyers who wish to handle more serious cases, screen all of these new requests, and assist the Judges in making decisions regarding the attorneys who will be allowed to receive court appointments.  The Local Administrative Judge shall solicit applications for new attorneys to the Mental Health court appointed attorney list on an as needed basis.

 

e.     The Board of Judges shall approve new applicants to the respective court appointment lists by majority vote.

 

The Board of Judges will conduct studies of the system as needed, plan for future needs, and prepare an annual budget for the court appointed attorney function and related expenses (e.g., investigators, psychiatric evaluations, expert witnesses...).

Distribution of Cases

 

a.         An attorney will receive one defendant per rotation on the appointment list.

 

b.        Appointments will be made from a rotating list of the names of eligible attorneys, in alphabetical order.

 

c.         In felony cases, an attorney may receive an appointment for the highest level of offense for which he/she is qualified and for any lower level offense he/she in which he has chosen to participate.

 

d.        Assignment of felony cases based on Category:

 

1.      Capital attorneys will be assigned to all cases.

2.      Category A attorneys will be assigned to all cases (except capital cases).

3.     Category B attorneys will be assigned to all cases in which the maximum sentence does not exceed 20 years.

4.     Category C attorneys will be assigned to state jail felonies and motions to revoke community supervision.

5.      Appellate attorneys will be assigned to appeals.

6.   Special case assignments will be at the discretion of the Judge assigned to hear the case.

 

e.        In mental health cases involving misdemeanors, state jail felonies and 3rd degree felony offenses, attorneys will be appointed from the mental health attorney rotation.

Fee and Expense Payment Process
10/10/2013

 

No payment shall be made until the judge approves payment after submission of an attorney's fee voucher.

 

If the judge disapproves the requested amount of payment, the judge shall make written findings stating the amount that the judge approves and each reason for approving an amount different from the requested amount.  The attorney whose request for payment is disapproved or is not acted upon within 60 days of submission may appeal the disapproval or failure to act by filing a motion with the presiding judge of the Second Administrative Judicial Region, as provided in Article 26.05(c) Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. 

 

Expenses incurred without prior approval shall be reimbursed if the expenses are reasonably necessary and reasonably incurred.

 

Expenses deemed either unnecessary or unreasonable will not be approved.  Whenever possible, attorneys should seek prior approval for expenses.

 

Compensation of Appointed Counsel

 

In consideration of reasonable compensation for court appointed counsel, taking into account necessary overhead costs and availability of qualified attorneys willing to accept the stated rates, the following guidelines shall be used to claim attorney’s fees for court appointed counsel in Felony and Misdemeanor Criminal cases effective December 1, 2009, pursuant to the Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 26.05.  See attached Attorney Fee Schedule.

 

Compensation Rates and Requests for Payment (See Attorney Fee Schedule).  In Capital Cases when the death penalty is sought, fees will be handled on a case by case basis.  The courts reserve the right to vary the guidelines in complex cases.

 

Miscellaneous
10/10/2013

Suspension or Removal of Attorney from Court Appointment List

 

a.         General Competence/Review by Judges

 

1.      Once a year at a time set by the judges all court appointed attorneys shall be reviewed.  Each judge shall review each attorney using the criteria deemed appropriate by the individual judge.  Below are listed some factors which a judge may wish to consider.  Each judge will score each attorney on a scale on which 100 is the highest rating and below 75 is unacceptable.

 

2.      General Criteria

 

Efficiency:            a.         Punctuality - Court appearances, motions, briefs, etc.

b.         Preparation in all areas

c.         Efficient use of court time

 

Knowledge:          a.         Knowledge of individual court’s rules and procedures

b.         Knowledge of Criminal Law

c.         Knowledge of Criminal Procedures

d.         Knowledge of probation programs, sentencing options,

            etc.

 

Skill:                     a.         Ability to communicate and conduct business with judges,

                                          court staff, and district attorney in a civil and effective manner

b.               Ability to deal effectively with clients

c.                Ability to present legal arguments to court

d.         Ability to examine witnesses, make objections and argue to

           a jury - trial skills

  

Ethics:                   a.         Follows rules of professional conduct

b.         Honesty in dealings with court, other lawyers, staff,

           and clients

 

3.                 All scores will be tallied by the Board of Judges, who shall determine the average score of each attorney.  Any attorney whose average score falls below 75 shall be removed from the list.  Such a suspension shall be for a minimum period of one year.  The judges may vote to allow an attorney to handle court appointed cases on a lower level if appropriate.

 

4.                In the event an attorney’s average falls below 80, the judges shall discuss the attorney’s level of proficiency and may vote to reduce his classification to a lower level or remove him from the list.  Under these circumstances, a majority vote is required to reclassify an attorney.

 

5.                 If an attorney is removed from the list or reclassified to a lower level, the Presiding Judge shall schedule a meeting with the Board of Judges and attorney to discuss the reasons for the action.  After a period of six months, the attorney may request reinstatement to the previous level or list.  The request should be submitted in writing to the Local Administrative Judge.  After the request is reviewed, the Judges will make a determination on the request for reinstatement.  A majority vote is required to reinstate or return an attorney to the previous level or list.

 

6.                Any attorney whose average score falls below 80, even if not reclassified, may be requested to meet with the Local Administrative Judge to review his performance and receive feedback concerning reasons for his rating.

 

Specific Incidents of Misconduct

 

      1.   If a judge experiences a specific problem with an attorney such as failure to attend court in a punctual manner, failure to timely visit clients, or other unethical or improper conduct, the judge may informally request an investigation by the local administrative judge or undertake his own investigation. 

 

     2.  If the matter is not resolved to the Judge’s satisfaction or the judge determines that the nature or circumstances of the conduct is sufficiently serious, the judge may request that the Board of Judges immediately suspend the attorney from the appointment list.

 

      3.   The Local Administrative Judge shall suspend the attorney and immediately notify him/her of said suspension.  The notice shall further inform the attorney of the grounds for suspension and that the attorney has 7 days from date of notice to file a written response with the administrator.

 

     4.   The local administrative judge shall circulate any response to all judges and the suspension shall be voted on at the next regular meeting.  Two or more votes ratify the suspension which shall remain in effect until a majority of judges vote to return the attorney to the list.

 

      5.   As a matter of routine practice all unexcused absences from court and failures to visit clients in a timely fashion should be reported to the local administrative judge so his office can maintain a cumulative record for all courts.  When the Local Administrative Judge observes a recurring problem with an attorney it should be brought to the Board of Judges attention at the earliest appropriate time. The judges will then take whatever action they deem appropriate, to include written warning or suspension under these rules.

 

Readmission to List

 

Any attorney suspended from the list may reapply (after six (6) months if suspended at annual review).  The reapplication should contain information detailing all steps taken by the attorney to correct deficiencies or improve skills, together with any other information the attorney deems relevant.

 

At the same time that new applications are received, the Judges will review the appointment list to determine whether attorneys on the list should be removed from the list or reclassified to a lower category.  The Judges may remove or reclassify an attorney from the appointment list for the following reasons:

 

The attorney has failed to satisfy the requirements in these guidelines.

 

The attorney has failed to effectively represent appointed defendants.

 

The attorney has failed to respond promptly to communication from the Court.

 

Plan Documents
Leon District Court Affidavit of Indigence.docx (9/28/2015 2:36:58 PM) view
Leon District Court Attorney Application for Appointment.doc (12/14/2009 11:25:07 AM) view
Leon District Court Attorney Fee Schedule .docx (4/8/2015 10:24:30 AM) view
Leon District Court Attorney Fee Voucher.doc (12/14/2009 11:07:23 AM) view
Leon District Court Income Eligibility Guidelines.pdf (10/10/2013 1:50:54 PM) view
Leon District Court Magistrates Warning Form.doc (12/14/2009 1:44:33 PM) view
Leon District Court Order Appointing Counsel.doc (12/14/2009 11:08:34 AM) view
Leon District Court Request for Court Appointed Attorney.doc (12/14/2009 11:10:54 AM) view