News 02.19.14

New Report Reveals That Missouri Public Defenders May Need Relief from Workload

The

New York Times

reports that a new report funded by the American Bar Association provides an in-depth look of the current state of a public defender’s work load at the Missouri State Public Defender Office, an office in which public lawyers have become so overtaxed that they have won the right — by the state’s supreme court — to refuse taking on new cases. The hope is that the data will garner support for the key changes that the office plans to implement in the coming years.

The study, conducted last year by the accounting firm RubinBrown, and described by legal experts as the most comprehensive and credible of its kind, tracked how 375 public lawyers in Missouri spent their time, broken down by five-minute increments. Independently, a panel of both private and public lawyers also conducted an analysis of average time that public defenders in Missouri need to properly do their jobs. 

The analyses revealed that in cases of “serious felonies, defenders spent an average of only nine hours preparing their cases, compared with the 47 hours they needed. For misdemeanors, they spent only two hours while 12 were called for.” Director of the State Public Defender System, Cathy R. Kelly, told the

Times

, “We found we are worse off than we thought we were.” 
The

Times

reports that many legal experts believe that the “the daily triage required of public lawyers is unconstitutional and forces them to violate their ethical obligations to clients.” 

Missouri’s defender office has requested a funding increase of about $25 million over four years to hire more than 200 new layers and scores of additional investigators and clerks and an additional $4 million cover about 4,000 juvenile cases annually. It’s doubtful, however, that those requests will be met fully.  According to the

Times

, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has approved only a small portion of the increased funding requests so far. 

Ms. Kelly is hopeful that legislators will back up their appreciation for the report’s new data with new funding during the spring’s budget process.   
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