JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A central Missouri judge says the caseload for her county’s public defenders is so big that something must be done to ensure clients receive adequate representation.
Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce made her finding Tuesday after public defender Justin Carver testified that attorneys within his district are overburdened, the News Tribune reported .
Carver suggested that options under state law could include bringing in lawyers from outside of the public defender system. He noted that the state employs a significant number of lawyers, such as attorneys who work for various state departments and on legislative research.
County prosecutor Mark Richardson said another hearing must be held to allow his office to respond with possible solutions.
Missouri’s Public Defender’s Office is appointed to criminal cases when there’s a possible jail or prison sentence and the defendant can’t afford a lawyer. The system’s attorneys historically have had a large caseload and constant turnover.
A caseload study from 2014 found that the state needed another 270 public defenders at that time to give competent defense to clients.
“Using that same formula on our current caseload, we’d need 300 additional defenders,” said Michael Barrett, director of the state public defender system. “Right now, we have 370 defenders, but we have a 25 percent turnover rate.
Joyce set a hearing for next week to work on a solution.
Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, http://www.newstribune.com