04 August 2016

This is Some Well Done, and Well Deserved, Trolling

Following repeated cuts to the Missouri Public Defender's office by the Missouri Governor, which has led the state to have the 49th most underfunded office in the nation, the head of the Public Defender's office has invoked a section of state law to assign the Governor as a defense attorney for an indigent defendant.

It's a "No Saving Throw" kind of thing under state law:
Fed up with what he says is the governor’s failure to properly fund his overwhelmed office, the state’s lead public defender ordered Gov. Jay Nixon this week to represent a poor person in Cole County this month.

Michael Barrett said he was using a provision of state law that allows him in extraordinary circumstances to delegate legal representation “to any member of the state bar of Missouri.” He’s starting with the state’s highest-profile lawyer: Nixon.

Barrett says the governor has repeatedly declined to give the public defender system the money it requests and is withholding promised funding increases this year.

“Providing counsel to poor people who face incarceration is the obligation of the state. It’s not fair to go after private attorneys who are trying to pay the rent when they had nothing to do with contributing to this,” Barrett said in an interview Wednesday.

Barrett never exercised this power before because he thought it was wrong to place the burden of public cases on private attorneys “who have in no way contributed to the current crisis,” he wrote in a letter to the governor dated Tuesday.

“However, given the extraordinary circumstances that compel me to entertain any and all avenues for relief, it strikes me that I should begin with the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it,” Barrett wrote, referring to Nixon, a Democrat who was a four-term attorney general before becoming governor.


The Missouri constitution allows the director of the public defender system to assign cases to any lawyer in the state, regardless of whether the lawyer is a public defender, Barrett said.

Just this June, the legislature granted the public defender system a $4.5 million increase, which would’ve helped in hiring 10 more employees and some private attorneys on a contractual basis. The office currently employs more than 370 attorneys. Officials with the public defender’s office had asked for a $23.1 million boost, while Nixon recommended a $1 million increase.

Last month, Barrett and the Missouri State Public Defender Commission filed a lawsuit claiming that Nixon withheld $3.5 million of that $4.5 million increase. Barrett claims Nixon is targeting the public defender system for budget cuts while leaving more money for other programs he likes.
Rather unsurprisingly, the Governor is claiming that this assignment isn't legal, but the law is pretty explicit here: the head of the Public Defender's office can involuntarily appoint a bar member as counsel for an indigent defendant.

It's gotten to the point where the US Department of Justice has expressed concerns that the state is violating defendants' civil rights, and the governor keeps trying to gut the office.

Nixon deserves what's happened to him.

A PDF of the letter is after the break:


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