Public Defenders

Public defender with 110 post-conviction cases gets stayed suspension for neglecting clients

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The Missouri Supreme Court has imposed a stayed suspension with a one-year license probation period on a public defender who said he provided inadequate client representation partly because of a heavy and unreasonable caseload.

Karl Hinkebein, a Columbia public defender who handled petitions for post-conviction relief, received the stayed suspension on Tuesday, report the Columbia Missourian and the Associated Press.

Missouri lawyer discipline officials had claimed Hinkebein failed to diligently represent six clients between 2011 and 2014, and failed to keep clients reasonably informed about the status of their cases.

Hinkebein said he was responsible for about 110 cases on the date of his disciplinary hearing, the largest caseload of anyone in his office. In addition, Hinkebein said, he had severe, chronic health problems and was hospitalized several times between 2010 and 2013.

In oral arguments, Hinkebein’s lawyer, Sara Rittman, said the case unfolded in the context of a “broken public defense system.” The Missouri State Public Defender was taking in more cases than it believed it could handle during the time period in question, and its requests for increased staffing “have been only minimally successful,” Hinkebein’s brief says.

Hinkebein’s supervisor had testified that Hinkebein was trying to keep things moving even when he was in the hospital. “Karl, out of all the people in our office, may be the last person to ask for help,” the supervisor testified. “He just doesn’t function that way. He is dedicated and has a very good work ethic. It’s just his personality. I think I made a poor assumption that he was able to keep up and he wasn’t and ultimately things snowballed from there to where we realized there were several cases in trouble.”

Hinkebein had testified he believed he would be fired if he turned down a case.

See also: “Missouri public defenders seek $25M in increased funding, citing ABA study” “Missouri public defenders sue governor over withholding of funds”

ABA Journal: “When public defenders become plaintiffs”

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