An admittedly drastic step has been taken by the State Public Defender’s office: closing its Springfield office to new cases.

Public Defender Deputy Director Cat Kelly says Greene County courts have been taking a number to steps to reduce the workload on the Public Defender office in Springfield to avoid closing the doors.

“There aren’t any other options,” Kelly tells the Missourinet.

Efforts to lessen the workload on the 20 public defenders in Springfield had some effect, but couldn’t keep the number of cases from reaching the maximum.

“When all other options fail, the only remaining option is to close the doors,” according to Kelly.

Kelly says public defenders simply cannot take on more clients than they can effectively represent.

“Otherwise, they are putting their licenses to practice law on the line. They’re opening themselves to malpractice,” Kelly says. “They are risking providing ineffective representation to clients which would result in those cases having to be overturned.”

A State Supreme Court ruling rejected a proposal by the Public Defender system to turn down clients facing lesser charges to concentrate on suspects charged with major felonies. It ruled it could only manage the caseload of its lawyers by rejecting all cases once their workload reaches a maximum.

The Springfield office serves Greene, Christian and Taney Counties. The office expects to again take on new clients the first of August. It will revert to the pattern of closing its doors once the maximum is reached again, opening when the workload is reduced. This is the first time a Public Defender office has closed, because it reached a caseload maximum.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:60 MP3]