The Missouri Legislature passed a state budget this year that includes hiring a total of 53 new public defenders statewide. Missouri Public Defender System Director Mary Fox tells Missourinet 34 of those positions have been filled.
Most of the new hires are awaiting the results of their bar exam. They are expected to get those results next month.
Once all 53 new hires are in place, the office will have its largest increase in more than 30 years.
The new attorneys are for 31 of the 33 trial offices throughout the state, which cover 113 counties. The only offices not getting extra attorneys are in St. Louis and Kansas City because Fox says they have historically been staffed better and the number of charges filed there have declined over the years.
The System has been understaffed and overwhelmed for years – eventually leading to the creation of a waiting list for services. A Missouri court ruled that the waiting list violates state and federal law.
Gov. Mike Parson’s and the Legislature’s decision to boost the number of public defenders will help to eliminate that waiting list and put the office in compliance with the law.
Fox says the goal is to have the waiting list, of roughly 800 active cases, eliminated soon.
“We have told the court our goal is to have the waiting list eliminated by December 31, 2021,” says Fox.
The public defender salary and benefits include the following:
*Starting salary is about $47,000
*Potential attractive salary increases
*Student loan forgiveness after ten years of service
*Continuing legal education required under Supreme Court rules would be at no cost to the employee
*Missouri Bar dues are paid
*Under the state budget plan lawmakers passed, most state employees would also get a 2% pay increase beginning next January. The public defenders would qualify for this pay hike.
*Mileage reimbursement to travel to court and to see clients
To apply for open spots, go to www.publicdefender.mo.gov.
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