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Morning headlines: Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Missouri Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday, December 13, 2011 over whether public defender offices can turn away cases.

Mo. Supreme Court to hear arguments in public defender case

A case that could decide how Missouri public defenders deal with case overload will be heard by the state's Supreme Court today. In July 2010 the public defender office in Christian County announced it had reached its case threshold and could take no more cases. The next month a judge assigned an indigent defendant to that office anyway and the public defender system filed suit.

St. Louis University law professor Susan McGraugh says the high court's decision could have a big impact.

 "This really could potentially be catastrophic to the Missouri Public Defender if they're told to continue without any additional resources, without any way to turn away cases, it really is going to affect what happens," said McGraugh.

Christian County prosecutors say the case is moot because the defendant public defenders declined to represent pleaded guilty and was sentenced. They further argue public defenders defied their statutory obligation to take all indigent clients.

McGraugh says Missouri's public defender is the worst funded system per case in the country.

Ill. Republicans leery of why Democrats want to change pension abuse legislation 

Gov. Pat Quinn will make the call on whether or not to sign a measure that would strip pension benefits from a pair of lobbyists who did little work to receive them.  The lobbyist spent only one day teaching in a classroom, but that was enough to take advantage of a loophole that let them become part of the Teacher’s Retirement System.

Republicans and Democrats both expressed outrage a few weeks ago when they approved legislation to curb pension abuses and take away those benefits from the pair.  But some Democrats say they are concerned it won't survive a legal challenge and wanted to pass a new plan that only targeted abuses going forward.  In other words, it would let the lobbyists keep their pensions. 

But House Republican Leader Tom Cross isn't convinced.

"It certainly begs the question as to how serious they are to the process of closing down these loopholes and these potential lucrative benefits," said Cross.

Without bipartisan support, lawmakers tabled the changes, leaving only the stricter measure that's now on the Governor's desk.  Pat Quinn had earlier indicated he would sign it.

Decision on Dellwood Police Dept. delayed again

A decision on whether St. Louis County should take over police duties in the city of Dellwood is delayed again, the result of an apparent boycott of city council meetings by four members of the council. The same four members who missed a meeting on Monday also were absent for a meeting last week. Their absence leaves the council without a quorum and unable to vote on dissolving the Dellwood police department and contracting with the county.

City Administrator Frank Myers says it is his understanding that the four council members who attended the meetings favor contracting with the county. The mayor would cast the deciding vote if there is a tie. The city attorney says legal action is possible.


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