AUSTIN – The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) yesterday bestowed its highest honor, the Robert O. Dawson Award, upon Jim Bethke in recognition of his outstanding work to improve indigent defense in Texas.
Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and TIDC Chair, presented the award to Bethke during TIDC’s March meeting: “Jim has dedicated his career to protecting the constitutional right to counsel for all Texans, regardless of their ability to afford a lawyer.” Keller noted that Bethke’s “leadership has been recognized nationally and internationally, and Texas is at the forefront of indigent defense thanks largely to his hard work and commitment.”
Bethke served as TIDC’s founding executive director from 2002 (when it was created as the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense) until 2017. During Bethke’s tenure, TIDC substantially increased state funding to county-based indigent defense systems, partnered with counties to build innovative defense programs, and oversaw the development of a data system that has made Texas a leader in data-driven indigent defense provision.
Under Bethke’s leadership, TIDC also created its discretionary grant program. The program has helped numerous Texas counties launch innovative projects, managed assigned counsel systems, and public defender offices, including the Lubbock Regional Public Defender Office for Capital Case (RPDO), which provides death penalty representation in over 180 counties.
At its March meeting, TIDC also approved a $6,780 grant to Lubbock County to expand its indigent defense attorney mentoring program, operated by the Lubbock Private Defender Office, where Bethke now serves as Chief Defender.
About the Robert O. Dawson Award
The Robert O. Dawson Indigent Defense Distinguished Service Award was established to honor and acknowledge the late Professor Dawson's outstanding contributions toward improving the state's provision of indigent defense services. After the Fair Defense Act was signed into law, Professor Dawson played an important role in the formation of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
The Texas Indigent Defense Commission provides financial and technical support to counties to develop and maintain quality, cost-effective indigent defense systems that meet the needs of local communities and the requirements of the Constitution and state law. More information is available at www.tidc.texas.gov.