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Renovations to Nueces County Courthouse hopes to streamline criminal backlog

The public defender's office is requesting an estimated $400,000 in ARPA funds for office space on the sixth floor of the Nueces County Courthouse.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Nueces County Public Defender's office is requesting an estimated $400,000 in ARPA funds for office space on the sixth floor of the Nueces County Courthouse. 

The money will be used to create private attorney office spaces closer to the county jail.

The question, though, is how will this affect the backlog of criminal cases currently plaguing Nueces County, and will the renovations positively impact the jail population?

The Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant was awarded to Nueces County for the creation of a public defender's office with a mental health division to provide services -- in addition to the court appointed system that's already in place.

3NEWS spoke with Nueces County Chief Public Defender Danice Obregon who said in order to provide those services -- they need office space.

“Basically like a team approach. We’re gonna have an investigator, social workers on staff and of course, being located in the courthouse, next door to the jail, that helps with the efficiency,” Obregon said.

Nueces County Sheriff JC Hooper is hopeful this decision will help the movement of criminal cases, but his top priority is courthouse safety.

"If what we're being told is true, I believe it will streamline and help us expedite a lot of these cases that are pending here in Nueces County,” Hooper said. “Initially they were looking at a more affordable location in the courthouse in the general atrium area, but in my opinion, that was not a secure enough environment for something like a public defender's office.” 

Hooper believes the most practical location for the office is in the watch tower -- which offers better security.

“Renovating a portion of the Law Library here in the courthouse," Obregon said.

One third of the library will be renovated, which should help in keeping up with the community's demand. 

"I learned yesterday, at the board of judges meeting that just last month alone, they appointed, there were 900 appointments for people who could not afford a lawyer," Hooper said.

The public defense office will only be handling Nueces County cases, Obregon says ideally, they'll have more availability to meet clients at the jail quickly. 

"With a county department dedicated to public defense, we will be only addressing cases in Nueces County, we won't be spread too thin amongst the other counties, and we will be able to take on a portion of those criminal cases,” Obregon said. “And if they're not able to bond out on their own we can advocate for them to try to get them released on a pre-trial bond. And then if they remain in jail, we can prioritize those cases and get them moved quicker."

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