Suspect's case on hold, caught in public defender case overload

Monday, September 6, 2010 | 8:25 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — Jared Blacksher would likely never have made the newspaper — definitely not the front page complete with a photo — merely on his burglary and forgery charges.

He also might not have spent as much time sitting in jail without a scheduled court date.

Blacksher's name has appeared in multiple articles and television spots and will likely continue as his case makes its way through a maze of legal proceedings and opinions — for a reason entirely separate from the crimes he's accused of committing.

"That poor kid. He's really the one in the crossfire," said Rod Hackathorn, who leads the public defender office that serves Greene, Taney and Christian counties.

Blacksher could remain in jail for upward of four months while his case is put on hold. Meanwhile, the involved parties will debate whether a judge has the authority to overrule the public defender's office closure.

Two months ago the Springfield public defender office was the first in the state to close temporarily to new clients under a new attempt by the state office to handle caseloads they say have become unbearable.

Shortly thereafter, a Christian County judge overruled the request not to represent Blacksher because he was charged when the office was closed. After another hearing on the subject, the judge upheld his decision.

The Missouri Public Defender Commission then filed an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court. On Aug. 30, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to take the case, citing a procedural rule that the case should have first gone through the appellate court.

Cat Kelly, the deputy director of the state Public Defender Office, said the commission had opted to go straight to the Supreme Court to expedite the process.

On Wednesday, the Southern District Appellate court declined to take the case. Kelly said it did not cite a reason for the refusal.

The commission then refiled with the Supreme Court.

That court has now issued a preliminary writ of prohibition that puts Blacksher's case on hold.

The next few months will be filled with responses by both parties, each side being given a month in between to respond to the other side's written arguments.

"It could go on for two or three more months, or even four or five," Kelly said.

Each side will have 30 days from the date of the other side's submission of their response. The first response from the Christian County judges is due by Oct. 4, but Kelly said the process could move faster if each side submits responses faster than the 30-day maximum.

Meanwhile, things likely will remain the same in local courts.

Hackathorn said little has changed for the office in the past two months, other than that the support staff has had more paperwork to deal with when filing the notices of unavailability.

But those notices have by and large been overruled by local judges, so the paperwork and cases continue to pile up for public defenders.

Greene County Judge Tom Mountjoy said the court system hasn't felt a change over the past two months, either, since judges have been overruling the notices. He said the process hasn't added any extra time for them.

"I think what we're all looking at is this Christian County case," said Dan Dankelson, president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Mountjoy and Dankelson said they wouldn't speculate about what it would mean if the Supreme Court were to decide that judges couldn't overrule public defender office closures.

"I think all we can do at this time is wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision and then see what guidance they give all the parties," Dankelson said.

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