Nonprofit has private St. Louis attorneys serving as public defenders

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - The "Missouri Right to Counsel" nonprofit formed this week and is made up of attorneys from about 20 firms in the St. Louis area. They will represent clients in court here in St. Louis County and in the city.

Richard Scherrer is winding down a more than 40 year career in law. But, he's not ready to toss the legal pads just yet.

"What can I do? So I picked up the phone and I called Michael Barrett, the director of the state's public defender's office," said Richard Scherrer.

Each public defender in Missouri handles hundreds of cases at a time. The state ranks 49th in funding for indigent defense. That puzzles Scherer, considering a right to an attorney is one of the fundamental liberties we all share.

"There are very few tasks that the state of Missouri has, which are mandated by the Constitution," said Richard Scherrer.

The Missouri Coalition for the Right to Counsel will assign 1-3 indigent defense cases to each lawyer. Many of these attorneys are new to the craft, and haven't seen much time in the courtroom. It's a resume builder for these young lawyers, and a chance to serve the community.

The private attorneys will only do this work for two years. If the program was permanent, Scherrer says state leaders might get a pass on fixing the public defender system.

The state's Public Defender's Office is going to train all of these attorneys at law firm iN Clayton in about a month. They'll start taking on cases after that.