Problems in Missouri’s public defender system generate the only discussion in a brief meeting of the state senate. Public Defenders are the people who will be our defenders in criminal cases if we cannot afford our own lawyer Officials with the Public Defender system point to increasingly heavy workloads, low salaries, and lack of incentives to stay in a generally thankless but constitutionally-required job.
Some public defenders worry that they have so many clients that they are not able to give adequate defenses to some of them.
A bill taking some of the strain off the system failed to pass in the legislature this year.Senator Joan Bray of St. Louis says the situation cannot continue. Bray says Missouri has let the system "get out of control" so much that the state could face a lawsuit charging violation of constitutional rights of accused people.
The chairman of a special committee that examined the problem last year, Jack Goodman of Mt. Vernon, concedes there is concern that some convictions could be in jeopardy as long as the state does not address overwork problems of Public Defenders.
Goodman’s bill passed in the senate this year but died in the House.
Adding insult to injury, as Bray sees it, is the Governor’s veto of 156-thousand dollars put in the budget to pay Public Defenders parking costs in Kansas City, St.Louis, Springfield and Columbia. She says other state employees in those areas get that benefit, but Governor Blunt has vetoed that funding for three years in a row. In fact, she says it’s the only budget item he vetoed this year. Bray calls the veto "mean" and "heartless," and "unfair."