Missouri Public Defender System Director Michael Barrett says he is using a law that allows him to appoint Governor Nixon, who’s a member of the state bar, as legal counsel for someone who can’t afford an attorney. Nixon spokesman Scott Holste tells Missourinet that Barrett does not have the legal authority to appoint private counsel. Barrett says Nixon might have to make that argument in court.
“Lawyers get appointed throughout the state by judges. Whether it’s probate cases in Kansas City or in the past by judges in criminal cases, this is no different,” says Barrett.
Barrett wouldn’t release details of the case that he has ordered Nixon to represent.
“He (Nixon) didn’t supervise law enforcement on this particular case. So there’s no conflict. There’s no statute that I’m aware of that exempts the Governor. His only option was to go inactive status as a lawyer,” says Barrett.
Barrett wants Nixon to release $3.5 million in budget funding restricted from his office in order to provide adequate defense for poor people. Nixon cites lower than expected revenue for freezing more than $115 million in the current budget.
“The legislature created this provision, I’m going to speculate, because in the past the Public Defender’s office has run out of money. This (provision) is almost like a safety valve, that allows the Director, when money runs out, to continue to make sure that people receive an attorney,” says Barrett.
Barrett filed a lawsuit last month claiming it’s unconstitutional for Nixon to withhold that funding. He says the Public Defender’s office is an independent department within the judiciary branch of government and the state is required to fund defense for those who can’t afford a lawyer.
Holste says Governor Nixon has “always supported indigent criminal defendants having legal representation”, citing a 15% increase in funding to the Missouri Public Defender System since Nixon took office.