Legal Ethics

Overloaded with Work, a Public Defender in Missouri Closes Office Doors to New Clients

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Faced with too many cases for its attorneys to handle properly, a Missiouri public defender’s office has imposed a moratorium on new representations.

It has stopped taking any new cases, although it anticipates opening its doors again at the beginning of August, reports Missourinet. Once a maximum caseload is reached, however, it will close its doors again until space for new clients opens up.

This is reportedly the first time any public defender’s office in the state has ever refused to take on new cases.

“There aren’t any other options,” says Public Defender Deputy Director Cat Kelly, pointing out that lawyers have an ethical obligation to represent clients appropriately and cannot do so if they are stretched too thin.

Asked what will be done to help those who need public defenders and can’t immediately get them, Kelly tells the News-Leader: “That’s the $64 million question. We’re in uncharted waters.”

Among the options, she says, are a court-mandated waiting list, appointing private attorneys to represent these individuals and obtaining prosecutors’ advance agreement not to seek jail time, eliminating the need for a public defender.

Cases from Christian, Greene and Taney counties are handled by the Springfield office. Meanwhile, high caseloads are also an issue in another 40 counties or so, including St. Louis, reports the Associated Press.

The articles don’t say what the Springfield office considers a maximum caseload for its 20 public defenders.

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