Public Defenders on the Offensive


I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

Missouri’s the Show-Me State, and public defenders there are demanding of the governor: show me the money.

Their office is so understaffed, and Governor Jay Nixon so unwilling to do anything about it, that the defenders have actually turned to the law to force his hand, and maybe his three other limbs as well.

A section of Missouri state law allows the director of defenders to lasso any active lawyer in the state — according to the director. According to the governor, no, not really, I would do anything for love of Missouri, but I won’t do that.

Governor Nixon, whose great-great-great-granddaddy was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, has repeatedly vetoed caseload caps and blocked millions of dollars in funding for state defenders of the poor. So poorly paid and overworked are they, that if they actually worked a standard eight-hour day, their effective hourly pay rate would make them eligible for their own services.

Public defenders in Missouri — and, to be fair, in most states — handle hundreds of cases at the same time. A Missouri study showed that they’re able to put in often barely twenty percent of the hours recommended to provide, not great, but merely effective, assistance of counsel. That’s the level where you don’t get sued for being a lazy bastard.

The days are dwindling down to a precious few for the Nixon administration. It may be that, faced with days of endless idleness come 2017, the former governor may reconsider. It ain’t much, but it’s a living.


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