COLUMBIA – A study issued last week by a law group at George Mason University confirmed a problem many Missourians likely already knew. Public defenders statewide are in great demand, and most have too many cases for which they are responsible.
The study maintains that Missouri's public defender system is at risk of a "crisis" if attorneys continue to take on excess cases at the current rate. It ranked Missouri 49th of the 50 states in spending for the public defender system.
Additionally, the study showed that Missouri has made little gain in this area since a similar examination into public defense systems four years ago.
Earlier this year, the Missouri House and Senate each overwhelmingly approved a bill that would have limited the number of cases public defenders could take at a given time. The bill also would have allowed any spending money to be directed to contract lawyers who could further ease the burden.
But the state appeals court rejected that bill, and Jay Nixon vetoed an alternative plan drawn up by the General Assembly. He said he wanted to avoid putting further strain on prosecutors.
Though a national ranking isn't the most important thing, being listed next to last is reflective of how well Missouri's public defender system stands up against what is expected.
How would you like to see the state improve its public defender system?