- Featured Stories
- Douglas County
- City of Ava
- General Interest
Local public defenders and circuit judges met with Peter Sterling, general counsel for the public defender system, on July 30 to discuss the caseload of public defenders.
Circuit Court Judge John Moody, Associate Circuit Judges Craig Carter and John Jacobs, and local public defenders Linda McKinney and Kevin Babcock were all present at the Douglas County Courthouse meeting.
If caseloads for the public defenders don’t decrease soon, they will have the option of refusing new clients.
That decision has already been made in the Springfield office and an office in Troy, located in northeastern Missouri.
Public defender offices can become “certified” and can then refuse to take new cases until their caseload falls below a recommended level.
Sterling said that the Ava office is likely to become certified within the next month.
When an office becomes certified, it takes cases from the first of a month until it reaches capacity, then it is closed for new cases.
When the office opens to new cases again, the cases from the past month are not considered, but only cases requested after the open date.
Those present at the meeting discussed several ideas for reducing caseloads without turning away cases, such as asking private attorneys to take on cases.
Jacobs said the courts could not appoint private attorneys, but that the public defenders office could contract with private attorneys to help with the caseload.
The judges said they were skeptical that public defenders cases took as long to prepare for as the state office estimated, and that therefore the caseload may not be as overwhelming as the statistics seem to show.
There was no agreement by the end of the meeting, which was set to encourage collaboration about the certification.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys sent out a press release voicing their opposition to the certification decisions.
“The actions of the Public Defenders are reckless, self interested and irresponsible,” said Dean Dankelson, President of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA) and Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney.
Prosecutors contend that objective facts don’t add up to a crisis situation for Public Defenders or the criminal justice system, according to the press release.
According to statistics from MAPA, the public defender system in Missouri handles around 40 percent of the cases in the state, while private attorneys handle the rest.
Prosecutors, however, do not share their caseload with private attorneys.
None of the three prosecuting attorneys in the circuit (Douglas, Ozark and Wright counties) attended the meeting on July 30.
This battle is being waged in Christian County, as well.
A man who was turned down for a public defender from the Springfield office has a champion in Associate Circuit Judge John Waters.
Waters overruled the objections of District Defender Rod Hackathorn and appointed a public defender to the case anyway.
Leaders of the public defender system will likely challenge the ruling.