Deason Center Receives Grant from Texas Bar Foundation

May 18, 2020



Grant will fund research to improve access to counsel for impoverished defendants in rural Texas.

DALLAS (SMU) – The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law was awarded a $26,890 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation to fund research to improve access to counsel for impoverished defendants in rural Texas. Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $21 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation's largest charitably-funded bar foundation.

“We are grateful for the Texas Bar Foundation’s generous support of the Deason Center’s work,” said Jennifer Collins, Dean of SMU Dedman School of Law. “This grant will not only encourage and promote legal assistance to poor and disadvantaged people, but it will strengthen the administration of justice and produce important legal research.”

Currently, only 37 of Texas’ 254 counties use a local or regional public defender office to provide the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Three counties use ‘Managed Assigned Counsel’ (“MAC”) programs, which oversee and manage the assigned counsel system. Texas’ remaining 214 counties rely exclusively on the appointment of individual attorneys. Research shows that rural counties in Texas often have few lawyers - 90% of Texas attorneys are located in the state’s ten largest metropolitan areas, while 45 counties have fewer than four lawyers and six rural counties have no registered attorneys at all.

“Rural counties in Texas are legal deserts,” said Dr. Andrew Davies, Director of Research at the Deason Center. “With so few lawyers, it can be challenging to locate appointed counsel to provide eligible criminal defendants with their constitutional right to counsel.”  Preliminary research by Dr. Davies has demonstrated that in urban Texas counties, 39% of misdemeanor defendants were represented by appointed counsel. In contrast, just 25% of misdemeanor defendants in rural counties received the assistance of appointed counsel.

Through the funding of this project, the Deason Center will:

  • look at changes in rates of appointment of counsel within counties over time, and assess whether use of a MAC or a defender office caused those rates to change;
  • conduct a qualitative investigation of how rural areas provide counsel to indigent defendants; and
  • interview justice-system officials in strategically selected counties, asking them about challenges they face in supplying indigent defense services.

“Research indicates rural counties may be able to do something about this injustice,” said Pamela R. Metzger, Director of the Deason Center. “The funding of this project will significantly expand upon Dr. Davies’ statistical work and the Deason Center’s commitment to access to justice for all.”


The School of Law at SMU was founded in 1925.  It was named Dedman School of Law in 2001 in honor of Dallas benefactors Nancy and Robert H. Dedman, Sr., and their family.  SMU Dedman Law enjoys a national and international reputation of distinction.  It is among the most competitive law schools in the country for admission, as well as one of the most successful in the placement of its graduates.

The Texas Bar Foundation solicits charitable contributions and provides funding to enhance the rule of law and the system of justice in Texas, especially for programs that relate to the administration of justice; ethics in the legal profession; legal assistance for the needy; the encouragement of legal research, publications and forums; and the education of the public.