Category Archives: Missouri

Funding crisis greatly hurting public defenders

From KCTV5:

KCTV5 first told viewers about the funding crisis in Western Missouri’s Federal Public Defender’s office in May and the drastic steps the top defender took trying to fix it. But now new cuts are set to make it even more difficult for public defenders to do their jobs at the federal courthouse.

They count every piece of paper, 90 percent of their furniture is second-hand, and they carpool to visit clients. That’s reality in the penny-saving Federal Public Defender’s Office, and it’s about to get worse.  “I can tell you our heads are barely above water at this point,” said Steve Moss, acting federal public defender.

Two months ago, the office’s top Federal Public Defender, Ray Conrad, retired early to stave off layoffs, but that hasn’t solved everything.

Now a new round of cuts, likely 14 to 18 percent, is coming for the next fiscal year starting October 1.  “The case loads are going up, the budget is going down, so that’s a bad combination,” Moss said.

Public defenders handle 65 percent of the federal cases tried in the Western Missouri District, and right now the office is averaging 53 cases per attorney, double the load 15 years ago.

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Outsourcing Public Defense in Missouri

In Missouri, a local bar association has offered to bid on cases assigned to the public defenders’ office when the public defenders have too many cases to handle.

From News-Leader.com:

“We said, ‘why don’t we privatize a portion of your caseload?’ because we think local attorneys can handle it more cost effectively. They don’t require health insurance, vacation and so on, it would just be another book in their practice,” Galloway said…

The Missouri State Public Defender System agreed that a partial privatization program with the Christian County Bar Association and local public defenders would be beneficial…

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, a former Pettis County prosecuting attorney, crafted a bill in 2013 to make outsourcing public defense legal. Rather than an outright refusal of cases, the defender could bid smaller cases to private attorneys…

Galloway adds that the outsourcing could speed up case progression for simple cases that often don’t end with trials, but guilty pleas.

“We can reduce costs and the money will be paid here locally to attorneys that are bidding on the work, helping the local economy,” Galloway said.

MO: To avert layoffs, public defender retires early

From the Kansas City Star:

Ray Conrad, who has led the federal public defender’s office since 1980, blamed his earlier-than-planned retirement on the federal sequester, which has left his office short of the resources needed to defend clients charged with crimes in federal court.  “When this thing started I told the staff I was committed to job security,” Conrad said in an interview Thursday. “I could not bring myself to say you have to leave without just cause, just because of a lack of money.”

Conrad, 73, said that by retiring effective June 1, he can avoid staff cuts and restore some money for resources that are important in defending the office’s clients. With savings from his salary, and that of a senior investigator who also is retiring, Conrad said he could cover a $270,000 budget shortfall looming in the next fiscal year, which starts in October.

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