Public defender's office reacts to caseload cap

Monday, October 1, 2012 | 9:20 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Monday marked the first day the Boone County Public Defender's office operated under a monthly 1,727-hour caseload restriction.

On Friday, presiding 13th Circuit Court Judge Gary Oxenhandler announced a new protocol to decide how the court would deal with overflow cases. The protocol is in response to a Missouri Supreme Court decision, which allowed public defenders to place a cap on their caseloads in order to prioritize criminal cases.

Boone and Callaway county circuit court judges, public defenders, county prosecutors and private attorneys met on Sept. 19 to discuss ways of addressing the caseload cap. Under the protocol, Oxenhandler will randomly assign misdemeanors and felony probation violation cases to private attorneys at the end of each month.

Boone County District Defender David Wallis explained the public defender's office would assist private attorneys in two ways: Creating a list of defendants not in custody who are on the docket and informing the judge of how many hours remain in the office allotment.

The office also will collaborate with private attorneys unaccustomed to handling criminal cases. Possible collaborations could involve interactions between public defenders and private attorneys at Missouri Bar Association training programs designed to familiarize the private attorneys with the process of criminal cases or consulting on specific cases passed from the public defender's office to private attorneys.

Monday was only his office's first day under the cap, but Wallis said he's satisfied with the new system.

"I just spoke to an assistant defense attorney Natalie Hull who's going to be handling cases in division five, and she said it was pretty quiet in there today," he said. "So far so good as to the new protocol."

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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