Criticism of the Public Defender System’s plan to limit the number of people defenders can represent each month is leading to some reassessment by the system.
The Public Defender Commission during the summer started limiting the number of indigent Missourians it would represent each month. It was an effort to keep its lawyers from case overloads that left them unable to adequately represent their clients.
But the state auditor questioned the basis for the policy. A legal expert meeting with the commission suggested a better system. The Missouri Bar has set up a committee to look at alternatives. And judges had asked for a more flexible system.
State Public Defender Cat Kelly says the standard had become a distraction. “The conversation really had moved away from the fact that Missouri public defenders are not able to provide what is constitutionally required,” she says.
The commission has pulled away from the strict limits on work hours and put more flexibility into the system. It’s waiting to see what the Missouri Bar committee recommends. And it’s looking at how the legislature rewrites Missouri’s criminal laws, hoping they’re changed so public defenders are not needed as much as they are now.