St. Louis Public Radio News
7:21 pm
Thu July 22, 2010

Public Defenders refuse new cases

St. Louis, MO. – Missourians accused of a crime who can't afford a private attorney are appointed a state public defender.

But public defenders in southwest Missouri will take no more cases until next month.

The Missouri Public Defender Commission says the Springfield office, which covers Greene, Christian, and Taney Counties, is overloaded.

Deputy Director Cat Kelly says the office was about 34% above what their maximum caseload should be last month.

Kelly says 13 other circuit court districts, including St. Louis County, are nearing the point where they too will have to turn away cases.

"That covers 43 counties in the state, so it's not a small number," Kelly said.

In December, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled public defenders could not pick and choose which cases they'd take.

But Kelly says the high court left the door open to turning down all new cases in order to ease caseloads.

Even so, she says she won't be surprised if there's a court challenge.