Current system began in 1989

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The current Missouri Public Defender System was formed in 1989 by then-governor John Ashcroft to replace the contract-based program that had been operating at the time.

At the time of the system's formation, it was recommended that each public defender work an average of 235 cases a year.

That number was based on a recommendation by the American Bar Association and Bureau of Justice, according to Cathy Kelly, director of training and communications for state public defender's office.

Both the association and bureau recommended yearly caseloads of either 150 felony, 400 misdemeanors, or 200 juvenile cases per lawyer.

"We're violating all those standards," Kelly said, noting the annual 298 cases the average public defender has now.

Public defender cases are split into three groups: criminal cases from misdemeanors to homicides; appellate cases; and capital cases with the possibility of death. Defenders who work in the last category have fewer cases but get paid same amount as other defenders, Kelly said.

The newly appointed chair of the Missouri State Public Defender Commission, Larmel Shurtleff, hopes to find a way to a solution to the caseload and staffing problems of the system.

Shurtleff, of the Columbia law firm Shurtleff, Froeschner & Bunn, assisted in organizing a campaign in the mid-1980s to bring forward the Missouri Public Defender System, according to a news release from the public defender's office.

She also served as the agency's first acting director and as chair in 1996, the release stated.

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