A Texas judge is ordering indigent defense counsel for illegal aliens to follow court protocol in Operation Lone Star cases.
As part of Operation Lone Star—Texas’ ongoing multibillion-dollar border security effort—the state is obligated to provide lawyers for illegal aliens charged with criminal matters when they are found to be indigent (unable to afford legal representation).
However, some of the lawyers assigned by the Lubbock Private Defenders Office—one organization tasked with defending illegal aliens in criminal cases by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission—have failed to appear before the court, after which LPDO attempted to appoint new counsel without the consent of the court.
On Wednesday, as Judge Penny Roberts heard another slew of OLS cases, she warned that reappointments outside of court procedure won’t be happening anymore.
The judge is demanding an “appropriate paper trail.”
“They either need to file a motion to withdraw or a motion to substitute for the court administrators under me,” said Roberts.
Amrutha Jindal, the chief defender for LPDO’s Operation Lone Star program, previously argued that under a Texas Supreme Court order, her office has the power to reassign counsel for illegal aliens without following the traditional process laid out in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which requires a judge to approve such reassignments to protect the interests of the accused.
Roberts said that although LPDO has the authority to appoint counsel under the Supreme Court order, they do not have the authority to reassign counsel without going before a judge.
“Since January, I’m finding numerous cases where, just willy-nilly, LPDO has substituted somebody here without going through the courts, without following any reasoning for it, without any justification. And that’s just not how the courts operate,” said Roberts.
She says the reappointments are dragging cases out because the newly appointed counsel argues they cannot go to trial because they are unfamiliar with the case.
“It’s not up to LPDO to just decide to remove an attorney,” said Roberts. “That attorney, once they’re appointed, is the lawyer until they either come to the court and say, ‘Judge, I have a conflict; I have a legitimate reason why I need to withdraw,’ and the court rules on that. … Then it comes time to appoint somebody else. But that process has been completely leapfrogged over, and we’re going to fix that.”