Timeline of Events for the Missouri Public Defender System

Sunday, October 19, 2008 | 6:07 p.m. CDT; updated 11:47 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 11, 2010

1963: In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court unanimously rules that state courts, under the Sixth Amendment, must provide legal counsel to defendants unable to afford their own.

1989: Public defender caseload is set at 235 by Gov. John Ashcroft.

2000-2005: Yearly caseload increases from 76,000 to 88,000.

2001-2005: The Missouri State Public Defender System experiences a turnover of 100 percent.

2003: Instead of receiving a requested $6.5 million increase in funds, the Public Defender System budget takes a $1.8 million cut.

2004: The Public Defender's Legal Services Expense & Equipment is cut by $2.5 million. The Public Defender department itself takes a cut of $500,000.

Spring 2005: J. Marty Robinson, director of the Missouri State Public Defender System, alerts the Missouri Bar Association of the lack of public defenders and funds. In response to the problem, the Bar asks private attorneys to donate their time to represent poor people charged with minor traffic violations.

November 2005: The Missouri Bar Association hires the Spangenberg Group, a consulting firm specializing in improving justice programs, to address problems with the Public Defender System. The firm reports Missouri is the only statewide public defender system that has failed to get funding increases for the previous five years; the department’s budget needs to increase by $16 million to meet the average per capita spending of the rest of the southern states; and Missouri ranks 47th in the nation in per capita spending on indigent defense.

January 2006: The MSPD asks for a $22 million increase from state legislature. The granted increase is $942,000, which pays for a 4 percent pay raise for public defender employees. The wages of state employees are raised by the same amount for the 2007 fiscal year, beginning in July.

2006: The Public Defender System’s budget is increased by $1.15 million to contract out court cases. At an average of $750 per case, $1 million covers the cost of approximately 1,300 cases.

December 2007: The MSPD submits its 2008 budget request of 151 additional lawyers and $14 million in contract funds to address the case overload.

2007: The Boone County Public Defender's office handles 4,474 cases, approximately 372 per defender.

July 30, 2008: The Missouri Public Defender Commission approves a policy that allows local offices to opt out of new cases if they exceed maximum caseload capacity for three consecutive months.

July 30, 2008: A new rule allows the Public Defender System to not represent defendants who have retained private counsel at any point in their case, even if they can no longer afford to pay for that counsel. Trial delays result.

October 2008: Missouri public defenders begin refusing certain categories of cases in some circuits. Boone and Cole counties begin refusing certain probation cases; Christian and Taney counties begin refusing certain misdemeanor cases. 

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