Missouri General Assembly Restores Funding for Public Defender System

Posted on Friday, July 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm

 

Missouri General Assembly Restores Funding for Public Defender System

 

September 11, 2014 (Columbia, MO) – Yesterday the Missouri State General Assembly voted to restore critical funding to the Missouri State Public Defender System (MSPD).  By an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives and a unanimous vote in the State Senate, the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of $3.47 million that will allow the public defender system to contract conflict cases to private attorneys.

Historically, when there is a criminal case involving co-defendants who are indigent, one defendant is represented by the local office of the MSPD and the co-defendant is assigned a public defender from another circuit.  This effort to avoid a conflict of interest unfortunately aggravates the current caseload crisis because the conflict public defender must then leave his or her assigned county to travel to another circuit to attend court appearances, make jail visits, as well as to conduct investigations, witness interviews and depositions in another circuit – all for a single client.

“One of the reasons a statewide public defender system is able represent so many individuals for such a limited cost compared to what private attorneys would charge has a lot to do with efficiencies attributable to economies of scale,” explained Cat Kelly, Director of the State Public Defender System.  “When an attorney is forced to leave the jurisdiction where 99% of his or her caseload is located to represent a single client, those efficiencies go away.”

The funding came on the heels of an independent report, prepared by the accounting firm RubinBrown on behalf of the American Bar Association, which used a validated business model to review 25 weeks of time entry logs and input from both the public and private bar to determine how long public defense attorneys were spending on specific case types and how many hours actually should be spent on those case types.  The results unequivocally revealed that, for every case type, public defenders were not spending the amount of time required to provide effective assistance of counsel, and this was entirely attributed to the sheer number of cases each attorney was assigned to handle.

Douglas Copeland, Chair of the Missouri State Public Defender Commission, stated that “[t]he Legislature has performed in true Missouri fashion – they required the public defender system to ‘Show-Me’ the data – objective evidence that our caseloads were unmanageable – and when we did, they acted.”

This targeted funding relief will allow public defenders to deal with their caseloads in a much more efficient manner. It will help avoid unnecessary continuances that burden the courts and, quite significantly, it will reduce the amount of time clients needlessly spend incarcerated waiting for their case to be heard. “This action by the Legislature demonstrates not only support for the role of the public defender, but an acknowledgment that an individual’s right to the effective assistance of counsel is a pillar of our system of justice,” said Director Kelly.

A copy of the Missouri Project report can be accessed at: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/legal_aid_indigent_defendants/2014/ls_sclaid_5c_the_missouri_project_report.authcheckdam.pdf

The Missouri State Public Defender provides legal representation throughout the state to indigent clients in criminal cases.  To learn more about the Missouri State Public Defender, visit: www.publicdefender.mo.gov.

For questions regarding this information, please contact:

Michael Barrett

General Counsel and Public Information Officer

Telephone:  573-355-6030

Email:  michael.barrett@mspd.mo.gov

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