After caseload cap, 13th Judicial Circuit resumes normal operations

Saturday, December 1, 2012 | 6:30 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The 13th Judicial Circuit, which services Boone and Callaway counties, will no longer operate under a caseload cap because the District 13 Public Defender's office has operated under capacity for the past two months, said 13th Circuit Presiding Judge Gary Oxenhandler.

The 1,727-hour-per-month caseload cap, which went into effect in October, came as a result of a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that allowed the director of the court to "limit the office's availability to accept new cases," when the office exceeds the maximum caseload standard for three consecutive months.

The 13th Circuit Court used 100 private attorneys to handle overflow cases in October and assigned an additional 50 cases to private attorneys in November, according to a news release from Oxenhandler. Because private counsel was assigned, the 13 Circuit Court was able to finish both months under capacity, which means it became decertified, Oxenhandler said. Once a court becomes decertified, it must accept all cases assigned to it again.

Oxenhandler said he didn't think the Missouri Public Defender System anticipated any of the courts becoming decertified by assigning private counsel.

While most private attorneys within the 13th Circuit have been very gracious, some have complained about the possibility of ending up with extra cases, Oxenhandler said.

The court might be required to return to the use of private counsel in February, but Oxenhandler is unsure because the caseload cap "is an issue that is in a constant state of flux," according to the release.

An audit released Oct. 10 by the Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich's office questioned how the state system tracks caseloads and determined the system — which uses a 1973 caseload standard — didn't have enough information to accurately determine staff and resources needed to manage workloads.

Oxenhandler said it has been a trying time for the court and private counsel.

"It is clear that the rule promulgated by the Public Defender has caused a great deal of inefficiency, delay and upheaval in our criminal justice system, and that the Public Defender's rule calculating workload is simply not practicable," he said in the release. 

The Missouri Public Defender System has begun to develop new time tracking procedures in hopes of developing a Missouri-specific caseload standard, according to an October news release.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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