Public Defender Program

Attorneys Michelle Ochoa (left) and Jessica Canter receive the 2017 Texas Gideon Recognition award from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

Attorneys Michelle Ochoa (left) and Jessica Canter receive the 2017 Texas Gideon Recognition award from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

The guiding principle of TRLA’s Public Defender Program is that comprehensive and conscientious representation for all defendants in jeopardy of incarceration is a right, not a privilege.

Using grants from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) and funding from the participating counties, TRLA operates public defender offices based in Willacy, Bee, Duval, Lavaca, and Starr counties. The Public Defender Division of TRLA provides legal representation in criminal cases for the indigent populations in those counties as well as in Jim Hogg, Live Oak, Refugio, McMullen, and Goliad counties.

In the fall of 2017, TRLA's public defender program opened a new component - the Bee County Public Defender Mental Health Project, which works to reduce prison recidivism by providing intensive, holistic representation for clients with serious mental illness, who cycle in and out of prisons, hospitals and homelessness. "We'll be able to leverage TRLA's vast civil legal resources on behalf of our clients," said TRLA attorney Laurie Hallmark, who is leading the project. 

In spring 2017, TIDC awarded the Texas Gideon Recognition award to TRLA and to Bee, Live Oak and McMullen counties for their dedication to improving indigent defense practices. In 2009, TRLA joined with the three counties to form the Bee County Regional Public Defender Office with the support of a TIDC discretionary grant. Since then the program has addressed two critical and challenging indigent defense needs - access to counsel and quality of representation.