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St. Louis Public Defenders To Decline Some Cases

Several public defender offices around the state have notified courts they will not be taking cases beyond their maximum caseload this month.

The 18 offices around Missouri include ones in St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson City and Springfield.

In St. Louis instead of turning away all cases public defenders met with the 22ndCircuit Court and the Circuit Attorney’s office to craft a different solution.

Director Mary Fox says the circuit’s presiding judge then issued an administrative order that the public defender’s St. Louis office will no longer take cases involving certain non-violent crimes.

"They wanted to make certain that there was counsel available to represent persons charged with serious offenses and in the city of St. Louis we have a lot of serious offenses, many of which go to jury trials," Fox said. "Those are the cases that the public defenders will remain in."

The cases not taken by public defenders could be picked up by private attorneys.

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce called the order the “least bad” of the alternatives.

"I’m not satisfied with this as a solution long-term," she said. "I think we as a state need to look more carefully at this and the legislature needs to review the public defender system and see if there are some opportunities for efficiencies there that would alleviate the need to take action such as this."

Nine more offices, including St. Louis County, and four appellate offices will be on limited availability starting in November.

This summer the Missouri Supreme Court ruled a judge in Christian County erred when he appointed a public defender despite their limited availability.

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

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