You have the right to remain silent and if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. But the one appointed for you might be too busy to take your case. Then what? The state senate is trying to answer that question.

A few years ago when the legislature was cutting budgets it offered the public defender system a choice–computerize or keep the secretarial staff. The result is that lawyers with excessive case loads already are spending a lot of time doing office tasks instead of legal work.

Senator Jack Goodman of Nevada says the workload of Missouri Public Defenders is exceeding every standard for lawyers, public or private.

Now there is a court ruling hanging over them that says they can be held personally liable if they don’t provide adequate defenses for their clients despite the state’s refusal to increase their numbers or provide help.

Goodman says the wheels of justice will come to a screeching halt if the problems are not addressed. In fact, he says, they’ve already started slowing down.

He says cases are being slowed down to the point that "the guilty are not being incarcerated in a timely manner; the innocent are not being exonerated in a timely manner and the victims of crimes are having to continue to endure the trauma of that crime sometimes for more than a year, sometimes longer."

The Senate has sent the House a bill letting Public Defenders refuse to take cases if their workload is so heavy that it violates professional standards and allowing the courts to appoint private lawyers to fill the gaps. The bill, however, does not guarantee that the state will provide funding for that relief.


Download Bob Priddy’s story (:63 mp3)