Houston Chronicle

Save Bunin

Attacks on county public defender are misguided


It’s bad enough that Harris County officials have wasted $6 million in taxpayer money to defend an unconstitu­tional bail system that has long freed the rich and let the poor languish in jail.

Now they’re wasting our time with a new kind of injustice: ridiculous allegation­s hurled at the county’s respected chief public defender, Alex Bunin.

Today, instead of addressing truly urgent matters — the upcoming multibilli­on-dollar bond election in response to Hurricane Harvey, perhaps, or what to do about the flood-prone criminal courthouse — the Harris County Commission­er’s Court plans to mull the fate of Bunin following an investigat­ion by County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office.

Ryan is looking into whether Bunin improperly leaked juvenile court records to plaintiffs suing the county in the bail lawsuit, and whether he allowed a non-county employee, bail reform advocate Jay Jenkins, to use county resources.

Precinct 3 Commission­er Steve Radack told the Chronicle that he wouldn’t rule out firing Bunin. We can’t rule out that Radack has too much time on his hands.

Bunin, a former federal public defender who came to Houston nearly a decade ago to build the Harris County PD’s office from scratch, has done nothing but further the cause of justice here. Bunin has won national recognitio­n and secured a $350,000 Justice Department grant to train and mentor court-appointed attorneys.

Bunin maintains he did nothing wrong. He told the editorial board that the names of some juveniles were included in one email he sent, but those weren’t court records and the law doesn’t prohibit their disclosure. He said he allowed Jenkins work space, but the county benefited more.

“He was giving us resources. He was like our liaison with community leaders,” Bunin said.

Bunin’s only crime seems to be doing his job, to advocate for his clients — the county’s indigent defendants — even when it meant opposing the policies of his employer. Bunin had long argued that depriving defendants attorneys at bail hearings violated due process rights, and a federal judge agreed.

“The county cannot tell us that because they have a position in a lawsuit, that we can put that above and beyond our client’s needs,” Bunin said.

He isn’t the only county official to speak out against an unconstitu­tional system. He’s the only one who isn’t elected, which leaves him vulnerable to retaliatio­n.

In fact, we’re all vulnerable if Radack and Ryan are allowed to punish a dedicated public servant for his integrity. Let Bunin get back to the work he was hired to do. And commission­ers, we suggest you do the same.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States