Harris County has struggled for decades to ensure that low-income people accused of crimes get good legal representation. A lack of funding is partially to blame, but it’s not the only factor. According to a Houston Chronicle investigation last week, the county paid private attorney Jeanie Ortiz $1 million last year to represent hundreds of indigent defendants, according to data from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
Critics say such numbers highlight a system that is both unnecessarily expensive and robs indigent defendants of their fair shake in court. Public defenders in the county make an average annual salary of $115,000, according to the county official who supervises them.