The state public defenders made a convincing case and have been sentenced to a bigger building.
The Missouri Public Defender's office staff has outgrown its building in uptown Jackson, and the Cape Girardeau County Commission decided Monday to put the building up for sale. In February, the public defender lawyers and secretaries will move into the building that formerly housed the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department. That building has been unoccupied since the new jail and offices were completed in 2001.
The decision Monday was not on the commission's agenda. But Commissioner Joe Gambill said discussion about the move has been going on for months.
"It's a good fit," Gambill said. "It's our obligation under statutes to provide space for the public defenders. This makes use of unoccupied space and allows a piece of property to be sold for surplus."
The county hopes to sell the building at 111 W. Main for $135,000. Meanwhile, the county will make repairs to and remodel the old sheriff's building, which is attached to the new jail and new sheriff's offices at Washington and High.
Gambill said the interior remodeling will cost roughly $25,000. The county will also replace the roof on the building sometime this spring. The costs will be shared on a pro-rated basis with Bollinger, Mississippi, Perry and Scott counties, which also have public defenders housed in the Jackson office.
Despite the upfront remodeling cost, Commissioner Larry Bock said, the county will save money on maintenance of the West Main building.
The building, in addition to being too small for the defenders, has some structural problems. Two metal posts have been installed in one of the offices to give additional support. Leaks also have been a problem.
But the biggest problem is space.
The state authorized additional staff for the Jackson office to keep up with the increased caseloads in the five counties. In the last 10 years, the public defender caseloads in Cape Girardeau County increased from 839 to 1,359 annually.
Scott County public defenders are now handling 136 cases more per year than they did 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, more public defenders have been added to a building that hasn't grown. The public defender's office currently is one attorney short of its authorization, but all its attorney's offices are occupied.
When the Jackson office is fully staffed, it will have a district defender, 10 assistant public defenders, two paralegal/investigators, two secretaries and a legal assistant.
"It's very cramped," said Kathleen Lear, comptroller for the office of the state public defender in Jefferson City. "The county has done a good job of providing for the public defender, and they knew the building is not meeting our needs."
Capt. James Mulcahy, the jail administrator, said the move will not create any working or security problems for the jail.
If anything, he said, the move will make work easier for the public defenders, who will be only a door away from meeting with clients in the jail.
No one with the sheriff's department was available Monday to comment.