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Case Name Heckman v. Williamson County PD-TX-0001
Docket / Court No. 06-453-C277 ( State Court )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Indigent Defense
Case Summary
In 2006, a group of individuals charged with misdemeanors but denied indigent defense brought this lawsuit in Texas State Court. Plaintiffs sought relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel by Williamson County, Texas. The plaintiffs sued not ... read more >
In 2006, a group of individuals charged with misdemeanors but denied indigent defense brought this lawsuit in Texas State Court. Plaintiffs sought relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel by Williamson County, Texas. The plaintiffs sued not only the county, but also the constitutional county judge, the three county court-at-law judges, and the magistrate judge of Williamson County, each in their official capacities. The plaintiffs, represented both by private counsel and the Texas Fair Defense Project, asked the court for injunctive and declaratory relief in an attempt to force the county create better policies for providing indigent defense.

Each of the plaintiffs was charged of misdemeanor offenses punishable by imprisonment, and each were alleged to be indigent. Additionally, for each defendant, in their criminal case, a judge declared that they would not be provided counsel.

The plaintiffs asked the court to certify a class, consisting of “all individuals who are accused of a misdemeanor crime in Williamson County who face the possibility of incarceration as a punishment if convicted of such crime and who cannot afford counsel,” and alleging that the county “maintain[ed] a custom, policy and practice of deliberately failing to inform accused persons of their right to counsel, providing inaccurate information to accused persons about their ability to qualify for appointed counsel, failing to provide counsel to indigent defendants who ha[d] requested such counsel, failing to adequately inform accused persons of the charges against them, and permitting Williamson County prosecutors to confront uncounseled accused persons regarding the merits of their cases without allowing them to request appointment of counsel.”

Apparently, before the class could be certified, however, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the case. On October 6, 2006, the court denied their motion; the defendants immediately filed an interlocutory appeal.

April 23, 2010, after about three and a half years in the appeals court, the court of appeals issued a memorandum opinion declaring that the plaintiffs’ claims were moot, and that the plaintiffs never had standing. The reasons for this decision was that each of the plaintiffs were eventually appointed counsel, and the presiding judge who had denied plaintiffs counsel in the first instance was not a member of the Williamson County court, but was in fact a visiting judge. Additionally, the Court, in the interim, had revised its policies governing legal representation for indigent defendants in misdemeanor cases. Though plaintiffs alleged that the stated policies of the court did not reflect its “actual practices,” the Appeals Court decided that because none of the plaintiffs had standing, the issue could not be addressed.

The plaintiffs, in response, applied for review. The court of appeal denied the plaintiffs request for review en banc, but the Supreme Court of Texas granted review on May 27, 2011.

On June 8, 2012, the Supreme Court of Texas overturned the decision of the Appeals Court, stating, for the very first time, that there is an “inherently transitory claims” exception to the mootness doctrine in Texas Courts, as well as stating that because at least one of the plaintiffs had standing to bring at least one of the classes’ claims, the class could have standing. The court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

The parties then settled, and on January 14, 2013, the trial court approved a joint motion to dismiss the case. The settlement agreement that resulted in the joint motion to dismiss stipulated that the county had to make sure that there was public access to all court proceedings. As for indigent defense, the settlement agreement stipulated that requests for counsel should be transmitted to the appropriate judge within 24 hours, that information on indigent defense counsel must be furnished to every person charged with a Class A or Class B misdemeanor, that no defendant should be directed to waive the right to counsel even if a decision regarding the appointment of indigent defense counsel had not been reached by the first appearance proceeding, and that prior to a waiver of the right to counsel, the County Court Judge must inform the defendant about his or her charge, the range of punishment related to that charge, and the defendants’ right to counsel in plea proceedings, as well as their right to an indigent defense counsel.

IBefore seeking remedies related to the settlement agreements, plaintiffs must give notice and must give the state 60 days to come into compliance with the agreement. Efforts to pursue remedies in court for noncompliance with the agreement were to be based on a “sustained pattern and practice” rather than an isolated occurrence. Information on compliance was to be reviewed quarterly. If a county maintained 8 consecutive quarters without enforcement action, then the term of enforcement would end for that court.

Enforcement and monitoring of the county’s compliance was left to the plaintiffs. The defendants were not required to report statistics regarding their compliance with the agreement, but the defendants were working on a system that would make monitoring of their provision of indigent defense easier for the plaintiffs. Though the plaintiffs were awarded $20,000 in attorneys’ fees, no attorneys’ fees were to be provided In the event of a winning enforcement action brought under the settlement.

The case was dismissed pursuant to the settlement on January 14, 2013. We have no information on subsequent enforcement, so most likely the enforcement period ended in January 2017.

Megan Brown - 05/21/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Assistance of counsel (6th Amendment)
Content of Injunction
Monitoring
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Williamson County
Plaintiff Description Class of arrestees charged with misdemeanor offenses that were punishable with incarceration who were denied counsel for indigent defendants
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Moot
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Order Duration 2013 - 2017
Case Closing Year 2013
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Williamson County TX settles “no counsel court” lawsuit
http://sixthamendment.org/williamson-county-tx-settles-no-counsel-court-lawsuit/
Date: Jan. 24, 2013
By: Jon Mosher (sixthamendment.org)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense
Date: 2011
By: Norman Lefstein (Indiana University--Indianapolis)
Citation: (ABA 2011)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel.
Date: Apr. 14, 2009
By: National Right to Counsel Committee (The Constitution Project)
Citation: National Right to Counsel Committee, Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel (2009)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  The Third Generation of Indigent Defense Litigation
New York University Review of Law and Social Change
Date: 2009
By: Cara Drinan (Columbus School of Law, Catholic University)
Citation: 33 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 427 (2009)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Indigent Defense Reform: The Role of Systemic Litigation in Operationalizing the Gideon Right to Counsel
Date: May 7, 2007
By: Vidhya K. Reddy (Washington University in St. Louis)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

  Remick v. Utah (2016)
By: ACLU of Utah
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
10-0671 (State Supreme Court)
PD-TX-0001-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/09/2011
Source: State Court Website
03-06-00600-CV (State Court of Appeals)
PD-TX-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/23/2012
Source: State Court Website
General Documents
Memorandum Opinion [Appeals Court - Plea to Jurisdiction] (368 S.W.3d 1)
PD-TX-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/23/2010
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion [Supreme Court - Plea to Jurisdiction] (369 S.W.3d 137)
PD-TX-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/08/2012
Source: Google Scholar
Joint Motion to Dismiss
PD-TX-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/14/2013
Judges Pemberton, Robert H. Court not on record
PD-TX-0001-9000
Willett, Don R. Court not on record
PD-TX-0001-0002
Plaintiff's Lawyers Marsh, Andrea (Texas)
PD-TX-0001-0003 | PD-TX-0001-9000 | PD-TX-0001-9001
Webber, Rebecca (Texas)
PD-TX-0001-9000 | PD-TX-0001-9001
Williams, Harry IV (Washington)
PD-TX-0001-0003 | PD-TX-0001-9000 | PD-TX-0001-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Davis, Michael P. (Texas)
PD-TX-0001-9000 | PD-TX-0001-9001
Heath, Claude Robert (Texas)
PD-TX-0001-0003 | PD-TX-0001-9000 | PD-TX-0001-9001
Hunsicker, Jana L. (Texas)
PD-TX-0001-9001
Prejean, Henry W. (Texas)
PD-TX-0001-0003 | PD-TX-0001-9000 | PD-TX-0001-9001

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