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In re Dallas County Public Defender's Office

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

January 17, 2018


         Original Proceeding from the 204th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause Nos. F17-75436-Q, F17-75468-Q, and F17-76382-Q

          Before Justices Lang, Brown, and Stoddart.



         Before the Court is respondent's motion for rehearing. We deny the motion for rehearing. We withdraw our prior opinion in this case, substitute this opinion in its place, and deny relator's petition for writ of mandamus. The following is now the opinion of the Court.

         In this original proceeding, the Dallas County Public Defender's Office complains of the trial court's denial of the office's motion to be appointed counsel to represent Emmanuel Kilpatrick in a capital murder case. The public defender's office contends that article 26.04(f) of the code of criminal procedure required the trial court to give the office priority in appointments and to appoint a member of the office to represent Kilpatrick unless the trial court had good cause to appoint other counsel. The public defender's office specifically asks this Court to grant the writ of mandamus, vacate the order denying the appointment, mandate that the public defender's office be appointed to Kilpatrick's case, and issue a writ of prohibition that prohibits the trial court from denying future appointments sought by the public defender's office. For the following reasons, we deny the petition for writ of mandamus and dismiss the petition for writ of prohibition.


         Kilpatrick has been indicted on three capital murder charges. The trial judge initially appointed attorney Richard Carrizales to represent Kilpatrick. Carrizales is only qualified to sit as second chair in death penalty cases in Dallas County. On September 22, 2017, the trial judge appointed Karo Johnson to represent Kilpatrick and sit first chair. Before Johnson's appointment, the Dallas County Public Defender's Office filed a motion to be appointed counsel to represent Kilpatrick and moved in the alternative for a hearing to demonstrate good cause for denying the appointment. Assistant Public Defender Christi Dean also sent the court coordinator an e-mail requesting "a formal written ruling on our motion indicating good cause or, in the alternative, set it for hearing . . . ." The trial judge denied the motion for appointment by written order without stating a reason and denied the request for a hearing to demonstrate good cause. This original proceeding followed.

         Mandamus Standard

         To establish a right to mandamus relief in a criminal case, the relator must show that the trial court violated a ministerial duty and there is no adequate remedy at law. In re State ex rel. Weeks, 391 S.W.3d 117, 122 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013) (orig. proceeding); In re Wingfield, 171 S.W.3d 374, 378-79 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2005, orig. proceeding). For a duty to be ministerial, the law must "clearly spell [ ] out the duty to be performed ... with such certainty that nothing is left to the exercise of discretion or judgment." State ex rel. Hill v. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, 34 S.W.3d 924, 928 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001) (quoting Texas Dep't of Corrections v. Dalehite, 623 S.W.2d 420, 424 (Tex. Crim. App. 1981)). In other words, the act must be "positively commanded and so plainly prescribed" under the law "as to be free from doubt." State ex rel. Hill, 34 S.W.3d at 928 (quoting Buntion v. Harmon, 827 S.W.2d 945, 949 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992)).

         Applicable Law

         This case presents the Court with the task of interpreting two statutes: articles 26.04 and 26.052 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. We review questions of statutory construction de novo. In re Lee, 411 S.W.3d 445, 450-51 (Tex. 2013). Our fundamental objective in interpreting a statute is "to determine and give effect to the Legislature's intent." Id. at 451 (quoting Am. Zurich Ins. Co. v. Samudio, 370 S.W.3d 363, 368 (Tex. 2012)). "The plain language of a statute is the surest guide to the Legislature's intent." Id. (quoting Prairie View A & M Univ. v. Chatha, 381 S.W.3d 500, 507 (Tex. 2012)). "[U]nambiguous text equals determinative text, " and " '[a]t this point, the judge's inquiry is at an end.' " In re Office of Attorney Gen., 422 S.W.3d 623, 629 (Tex. 2013) (quoting Alex Sheshunoff Mgmt. Servs., L.P. v. Johnson, 209 S.W.3d 644, 652 (Tex. 2006)). For example, use of the word "notwithstanding" indicates a legislative intention that the provision using the term should control over other provisions. In re Lee, 411 S.W.3d at 454 ("the use of the word 'notwithstanding' indicates that the Legislature intended section 153.0071 to be controlling") (citing Molinet v. Kimbrell, 356 S.W.3d 407, 413-14 (Tex. 2011) (holding that a "notwithstanding any other law" provision evidenced clear legislative intent to resolve any interpretation conflicts in favor of the statute containing the provision) and Tex. Lottery Comm'n v. First State Bank of DeQueen, 325 S.W.3d 628, 639 (Tex. 2010) (holding that a statute "manifest[ing] clear legislative intent that conflicting statutes are ineffective" controlled over such conflicting statutes)).

         It is inappropriate to resort to rules of construction or extratextual information to construe a statute when its language is clear and unambiguous. In re Lee, 411 S.W.3d at 451. Under this text-based approach, we must study the provision at issue and the statute as a whole. Id. "If a general provision conflicts with a special or local provision, the provisions shall be construed, if possible, so that effect is given to both." Tex. Gov't Code § 311.026(a). However, in the event that any such conflict is irreconcilable, the more specific provision will generally prevail. Id. § 311.026(b); see also In re Allcat Claims Serv., L.P., 356 S.W.3d 455, 470-71 (Tex. 2011).

         Article 26.04(f) provides that a court "shall give priority" in appointment to a county's public defender's office but "is not required to appoint the public defender's office if: (1) the court has reason to appoint other counsel. . . ." Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 26.04(f). Article 26.052 is titled "Appointment of counsel in death penalty case; reimbursement of investigative expenses." Article 26.052(a) provides:

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, this article establishes procedures in death penalty cases for appointment and payment of counsel to represent indigent defendants at trial and on direct appeal and to apply ...

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