Public Defenders in many parts of the state will be counting the hours next month. And when they reach a set number, they will close their doors.
The state supreme court has ruled that public defenders can refuse to take more cases when their workload becomes so great they cannot effectively represent additional clients. Defenders in seventeen court circuits start keeping track of their case load hours in October. After they hit their maximum, judges will have to find a different way for indigent clients to be represented in court.
State Public Defender Cat Kelly says ten or twelve more circuit public defenders will start the process in the next month or two. Three offices are not exceeding their maximum allowable case load but she says those three–in Kirksville, Moberly, and Maryville–are at capacity. Kelly says defenders are meeting with judges to establish a new system. She says some judges might decide to have defenders focus only on the more serious crimes. Others might draft private attorneys to represent indigent clients.
Last year the public defender system handled 84,000 cases. Questions about overworked defenders failing to properly represent clients have put some defenders before a state disciplinary board. Kelly hopes the new system ends that threat for her employees.