Case: Heckman v. Williamson County

06-00453 | Texas state trial court

Filed Date: 2006

Closed Date: 2017

Clearinghouse coding complete

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 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, represe…

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.

Summary Authors

Megan Brown (5/21/2017)

People


Judge(s)

Pemberton, Robert H. (Texas)

Willett, Don R. (Texas)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Marsh, Andrea (Texas)

Webber, Rebecca (Texas)

Williams, Harry IV (Washington)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Heath, Claude Robert (Texas)

Hunsicker, Jana L. (Texas)

Prejean, Henry W. (Texas)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Davis, Michael P. (Texas)

Judge(s)

Pemberton, Robert H. (Texas)

Willett, Don R. (Texas)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Marsh, Andrea (Texas)

Webber, Rebecca (Texas)

Williams, Harry IV (Washington)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Heath, Claude Robert (Texas)

Hunsicker, Jana L. (Texas)

Prejean, Henry W. (Texas)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Davis, Michael P. (Texas)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

10-0671

[Untitled]

Texas state supreme court

Nov. 9, 2011

Nov. 9, 2011

Docket

03-06-00600-CV

Texas Court of Appeals Docket

Texas state appellate court

July 23, 2012

July 23, 2012

Docket

03-06-00600-CV

Memorandum Opinion [Appeals Court - Plea to Jurisdiction]

Williamson County v. Heckman

368 S.W.3d 1

April 23, 2010

April 23, 2010

Order/Opinion

10-0671

Opinion [Supreme Court - Plea to Jurisdiction]

Texas state supreme court

369 S.W.3d 137

June 8, 2012

June 8, 2012

Order/Opinion

06-543-C277

Joint Motion to Dismiss

Jan. 14, 2013

Jan. 14, 2013

Settlement Agreement

Resources

Docket

Last updated July 27, 2022, 3:01 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Texas

Case Type(s):

Indigent Defense

Key Dates

Filing Date: 2006

Closing Date: 2017

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Class of arrestees charged with misdemeanor offenses that were punishable with incarceration who were denied counsel for indigent defendants

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Mooted before ruling

Defendants

Williamson County (Williamson), County

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Availably Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Voluntary Dismissal

Amount Defendant Pays: $20,000.00

Order Duration: 2013 - 2017

Content of Injunction:

Monitoring

Issues

Reproductive rights:

Fetus Identity

General:

Access to lawyers or judicial system