COLUMBIA, Mo. — A judge in central Missouri has appointed nearly 40 private attorneys to represent criminal defendants after announcing last week that the public defenders’ office needs assistance.

Boone County Presiding Judge Kevin Crane announced Sept. 27 that the public defenders’ office needs help. Public defenders have more representation requests than they can fulfill because of stricter limitations on their caseloads, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported .

Caseloads were limited after an arm of the Missouri Supreme Court that reviews allegations of attorney misconduct recommended suspending an overworked public defender’s license. Others now fear their licenses are threatened if they don’t lighten their caseloads, District Defender David Wallis wrote in an email to Crane.

The unexpected assignments received mixed reactions from attorneys.

Private attorney Dan Viets said he was sitting in the courthouse Tuesday when Crane walked up to him, handed him a list of clients and told him to pick one to represent. Viets said he doesn’t mind helping but that he wants to make sure everyone gets that same chance.

If “they want to put some pressure on the legislature to fund public defenders … they should appoint corporate lawyers, too,” Viets said. “We need more funding for public defenders. We need good people to have that representation.”

Raymond Legg, another attorney Crane recruited, said he understands the public defender system in Missouri is poorly funded and that counties appointing private attorneys to criminal defendants should be a wake-up call to legislators.

Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune,