Missouri public defender system seeks more funding to address wait list

Missouri
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Missouri State Public Defender System is asking the state for more money. Office Director Mary Fox told the Missouri House Budget Committee on Thursday that her office is short by more than 300 attorneys, according to one analysis.

“We now have waitlists where we can’t represent everyone,” she told lawmakers.

Fox is requesting $3,049,000 to be used to try and shrink a waitlist of approximately 6,000 defendants. The money would be used to contract with private attorneys to represent defendants who qualified for a public defender. Fox believes it would be an effective way to immediately address the wait. She also said paying private attorneys is more costly than the services of public defenders.

Fox is also requesting additional funding to hire 6 public defenders and open a new office.

“We need to be able to reduce our caseloads to affectively represent the folks that the Sixth Amendment requires representation for,” said Fox.

She said one reason for the waitlist is a 2017 Missouri Supreme Court Case. The case resulted in a public defender with a heavy caseload being disciplined for not adequately representing his clients. Fox told lawmakers some options for reducing the caseload include sending more defendants to diversion or drug courts. She also told lawmakers some prosecutors should be more thorough with their investigations before filing charges.

“I’m not saying don’t prosecute cases because a crime has occurred, “ Fox told lawmakers. “I’m saying do a thorough investigation before you make the decision to issue a case.”

She cited one case where a defendant was charged with a felony even though there was videotape evidence he was on an Amtrak train when the crime occurred.

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