Missouri Public Defender System

americanbar.org

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled last week that a public defender in southeast Missouri had to get approval from a judge before rejecting new cases.

The head of Missouri’s Public Defender System, Michael Barrett, tells KSMU the most recent ruling creates a conflict for his team of attorneys because they are expected to take on an extraordinarily high number of cases—while still being held to the same ethical standards, and disciplanary action, as other lawyers.

The chronically underfunded Missouri public defender system is now dealing with another vexing issue: the prospect that its overworked attorneys could be punished for not keeping up with their workloads. And that's leading to a growing standoff between judges and public defender attorneys.

The issue surfaced after the Missouri Supreme Court last month suspended a 21-year veteran of the public defender’s office in Columbia who was laboring under a huge caseload and was hospitalized due to chronic health problems.