COLUMBIA — David Wallis will become the new head of the Boone County public defender trial office on Saturday.
The Missouri State Public Defender System named Wallis the district defender of Trial District 13, which encompasses all of Boone County. Former District Defender Tony Manansala relocated to the Farmington office in order to be closer to family, according to a news release.
"I am very nervous, anxious and excited," Wallis said of his new position. "But most of all I am really looking forward to leading this office."
There are 12 public defenders in the Boone County office, including Wallis acting as managing attorney, according to Kathryn Longhurst, who works for the public defender system. Wallis said the office handles cases throughout mid-Missouri.
Wallis graduated from the MU School of Law in 2006. After working for a few months for the Missouri Department of Insurance, he became a public defender in March 2007.
He worked in Jefferson City at the state public defender office for two years, then transferred to the Columbia office when a position became available in June 2009.
Wallis said he is taking the new position during a time of change for the public defender system in both Missouri and in Columbia.
For years, the state public defender system has sought relief from a growing and unmanageable caseload. The Missouri Supreme Court is in the process of deciding whether overloaded public defender offices, such as Boone County’s, can turn away cases if the effectiveness of counsel is undermined.
Wallis said the litigation is intended to draw attention to the caseload problem and bring relief in the form of more funding or more effective strategies, rather than closing offices or turning away clients.
On a local level, Wallis said he would like to change communications with clients by establishing more specific expectations initially and by allocating more time to interact with clients.
“The end result might be the same if they talk with us 10 times or one time,” Wallis said. “But at least it will be more evident that we are keeping the client’s best interests at heart.”
One of the other goals he has is to increase the number of trial cases the office carries. He said the office handled only six trial cases in the last fiscal year.
Wallis said the office will be facing daunting challenges given the amount of resources.
"However, with those challenges also comes an incredible opportunity not only for me but for our entire office, which is an extremely dedicated group, and I look forward to leading the office as those challenges and opportunities present themselves," he said.
Wallis lives in Columbia with his wife, Kelly, who is also a practicing attorney, and two sons, Clark and Rivers.