Many Missouri public defenders could be getting an additional staff support position. The state Legislature’s $49 billion state budget proposal includes adding 24 full-time staff support jobs statewide within the Missouri Public Defender System.
The System’s Director, Mary Fox, told Missourinet the positions would be for 24 of the 46 offices around the state.
“We were fortunate last year to receive additional attorney staffing,” said Fox. “But as every attorney knows, there’s so many things that need to be done. It’s best to have additional support staff to make certain that the work gets done and the attorney is focusing on the legal work. Support staff is doing all of the tasks that need to happen to make certain that the cases are handled well. What we’ve seen is that over the years some small offices have really grown in terms of the number of cases that come through the door and we haven’t been able to keep up with the staffing in those offices so we’re going to try to fix some of those issues in those offices.”
Fox said the new positions would vary upon the office.
“Some of the staff will be legal assistants others will be investigators, so it depends on the need of the individual offices. We’re going to take a look at the offices that are most in need of the additional staff and place them there,” she said.
Gov. Mike Parson has until the end of June to take action on the state budget proposal – and decide if he backs the additional 24 positions.
The current state budget year included the hiring of 53 public defenders to eliminate a waiting list for services. Fox says like many other employers, the System is struggling to fill some of those positions.
The System did eliminate the waiting list last year. That list was some 6,000 names deep at one time.
“I think the most important thing that often gets missed when the public defender system is talked about is that we have a system of very dedicated and talented attorneys that have been providing the necessary representation throughout all of the struggles of the last decade. Basically, they’ve stuck with it when their caseloads have been high or their caseloads have been reasonable. They have continued to represent people who continue to go to the jails, continue to appear in court, to argue in the appellate courts. But for the public defender system, the criminal justice system in Missouri would struggle with continuing to operate. So I think we have to give thanks to those attorneys who don’t receive a high amount of pay and have way too many cases to have a reasonable workload. They stick with it because they believe in the mission. They believe in the right to counsel for every person who is charged in a criminal case. So I’m extremely grateful to the attorneys and staff in the public defender system, and the work that they do,” she said.
Fox says the caseloads for some public defenders are still high but that is, in good part, due to the pandemic-related backlog within the court system.
The System also has public defender positions open across the state.
To hear the Show Me Today interview, click below. (18:03)
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