Top law firms should help low-income defendants
Recently, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced a new program in which attorneys from top corporate law firms prosecute cases in the “high-volume” Justice of the Peace courts.
The criminal cases in these courts are low-level, Class C misdemeanor cases, such as citations for speeding or failing to signal. Ogg championed this program as a way for “some of Houston’s best new lawyers in courtrooms to get trial experience.” But this program will only exacerbate the inequity and power imbalance in the Harris County Justice of the Peace courts, where defendants who can’t afford lawyers are not provided one. For low-income people with no access to legal representation, these courts can be confusing and unforgiving poverty traps, perpetuating cycles of debt and offering no clear way out.