County officials took the next step in establishing a public defender's office to serve indigent people accused of crimes and even pointing out a potential property downtown.

“There’s a building a couple of blocks down the street here on Earl Garrett — the old Sunday school building — that we might be able to use,” said County Judge Rob Kelly during a May 18 commissioners court meeting.

The taxpayer-funded office would be based in Kerrville and employ more than 20 employees, for whom salaries and benefits could total about $3,009,996, according to a proposal by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, which would provide the grant. 

Kerr County commissioners voted unanimously to seek the grant, noting that they’re not obligated to take the funds even if they’re approved. The commission’s governing body is expected to meet in June to approve grants. 

The public defender’s office would serve the counties of Kerr, Bandera, Gillespie, Kendall and Medina County, with Kerville being the home base. A small number of staff — apart from the approximately 20 in Kerrville — might be housed in another office in Hondo, officials have said.

At the May 18 meeting, Kelly told his colleagues that cost-sharing ratios among counties could be based on caseload. The counties have opted to control the office directly, rather than contract with the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, a nonprofit. Kelly said 90 percent of TRLA’s work involves civil cases and it wanted to open a civil office in Kerrville. Kelly said TRLA has “a very good program,” but said the other county judges didn’t want to be associated with civil cases that can be controversial and political. 

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