Neighborhood Defender Service is Appointed as Hays County’s Public Defender Office
SAN MARCOS, TX (November 22, 2022) — Today the Hays County Commissioners Court voted to approve a five-year contract with Neighborhood Defender Service (NDS) to provide legal services as the County’s Public Defender Office.
“We thank the Commissioners for putting their trust in Neighborhood Defender Service and we look forward to bringing the power of public defense to Hays County,” said NDS Executive Director Rick Jones, adding that many of the new positions will be filled by local talent from the region. NDS staff will handle 25 percent of all Hays County cases.
Jeff Hohl, who’s made Texas his home for over 20 years, will serve as NDS’s Supervising Attorney in Hays County, explained that NDS’ holistic defense model provides an interdisciplinary service that includes not only lawyers but also social workers, client advocates, investigators, and civil attorneys.
“When our clients face consequences with employment, schooling, or in family or housing court, NDS works alongside them to resolve these issues,” he said. “By addressing clients’ underlying needs, we can reduce pre-trial detention, improve case outcomes, and save taxpayers money. That’s a win-win for all concerned.”
NDS will serve the most vulnerable people of Hays County – those with low income who cannot afford lawyers or bail. As of November 21, most of the 647 people behind bars in the County Jail are awaiting a trial, according to the Hays County-Vera Justice Institute jail dashboard. Many of them are of prime working age (25-54) and will be held for up to six months. During that time, before they get a chance to make their case, their lives will be thrown into disarray. They may lose their jobs and even their homes. Families will be without loved ones, important occasions will be missed, and those with mental health problems and substance use disorders will suffer further without adequate treatment. The results are disastrous not just for those individuals charged, but for their families and the community.
Holistic defense works, Hohl noted. A recent 10-year study by the RAND Corporation of the holistic defense model showed that over 10 years, this model saved indigent clients a total of 1.1. million days behind bars and saved taxpayers an estimated $165 million in housing costs alone.
With the signing of the Hays County contract, NDS will have a total of three offices in Texas (San Antonio, Houston, and San Marcos), as well as employees assigned to Del Rio, Laredo, Dilley, and Edinburg counties.
“As a holistic public defender’s office, not only will we be a new resource for Hays County communities, but we will be able to leverage existing resources to provide residents with the best possible representation,” said Meenu Walters, who leads Neighborhood Defender Service’s programs in Texas and is based at the organization’s San Antonio office. She will provide oversight of, and guidance to, the NDS Texas Hays County Public Defender’s Office.
NDS, established in 1990, is known nationally and internationally for its innovative, community-based, holistic public defense practice. With offices in New York City, Detroit, Houston, and San Antonio we have pioneered the holistic model to address problems plaguing public defense. NDS clients have an entire team fighting on their behalf, including criminal and civil attorneys, family defense attorneys, advocates, social workers, investigators, paralegals, law school and social work interns, and pro bono attorneys. NDS deploys all these resources on behalf of our clients, addressing the underlying issues that bring them into contact with the criminal legal system.
Meenu Walters leads Neighborhood Defender Service’s programs in Texas. She will provide oversight of and guidance to the NDS Texas Hays County Public Defender’s Office.
Meenu did her undergraduate work at both the University of Houston and Baylor University, and earned a J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1999. She serves on the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
From 1999 to 2011, Meenu was an Assistant District Attorney in Bexar County. She has also been an Assistant Public Defender for the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases; Chief Public Defender for Atascosa, Wilson, Karnes, and Frio Counties; and had her own private defense firm for nine years, during which time she handled criminal cases in Hays and other counties in South Central Texas. She joined NDS in January 2022 as Supervising Attorney for NDS Texas’s Operation Lone Star program, which has offices in Bexar and Harris counties, and is now Managing Attorney.
Meenu has lived in Texas for 44 years. She currently lives in the Helotes area with her husband and two teenage children.
Jeff Hohl will serve as the Supervising Attorney for the NDS Texas Hays County Public Defender’s Office. Jeff attended the University of Arizona for undergraduate work and obtained his B.S. in Business with a minor in Marketing. He earned his J.D. from South Texas College of Law-Houston in 2010. After graduation, Jeff coached mock trial teams for South Texas and worked as an Adjunct Professor, teaching trial litigation skills at South Texas.
From 2011 to 2018, Jeff worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County handling all types of misdemeanors and felonies. In 2018, Jeff opened a law practice, handling mainly criminal defense in multiple counties including Montgomery, Harris, Bexar, Comal, Kerr and San Jacinto. Jeff became a member of the NDS San Antonio team in April 2022 as a Senior Trial Attorney and currently serves as the Interim Supervising Attorney.
Jeff has lived in Texas for 22 years. He and his wife, Crystal, live in the Helotes area and have two children.
CONTACT: Shannon Anglero, (347) 852-3443, firstname.lastname@example.org