- Cape student sues, accuses school officials of slamming her to ground multiple times (04/28/16)41
- Bob Evans restaurant in Cape Girardeau among chain's 21 closings (04/26/16)9
- Missouri House votes to allow concealed weapons without permits (04/28/16)6
- Two hurt in motorcycle wreck on Interstate 55 (04/25/16)1
- Law firm requests information about Cape's traffic cameras (04/25/16)2
- Local lawmakers split over failed medical marijuana bill; voters may have a say (04/26/16)19
- Police report filed, but no charges in incident at Cape Central (04/29/16)18
- Tanker truck catches fire near Oak Ridge (04/24/16)7
- Local company makes eco-friendly kitty litter that cuts cat-box smell (04/25/16)
- Senator introduces bill for I-57 that would connect Sikeston with Little Rock (04/28/16)4
Appeal court ruling says Mo. public defenders can be sued
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Missouri appeals court panel has ruled that public defenders in the state do not have official immunity from legal action by former clients.
In the ruling issued Wednesday, the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned a Boone County judge's decision to dismiss a Missouri prisoner's lawsuit. The decision marked the first time that the court had addressed the immunity issue.
The inmate, Bernardo Costa, alleged in the suit that his public defender failed to call witnesses whom Costa wanted to testify on his behalf in a post-conviction hearing. Costa is serving a prison sentence for statutory rape, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.
The appeals court studied decisions in other states. They found that attorneys who work as public defenders generally are not protected by the same immunity from civil damages that other public officials enjoy.
A Florida appeals court decision cited in the ruling stated that a public defender is not like a prosecutor or judge who acts on behalf of the state. The Florida ruling went on to state that a public defender "is an advocate who, once appointed, owes a duty only to his client, the indigent defendant. His role does not differ from that of privately retained counsel."
In the decision Wednesday, the Missouri appeals court said the lower court erred in dismissing Costa's suit. The appeals panel ordered the case sent back to the trial court for further proceedings.
The ruling, however, did not address the merits of Costa's claim against the public defender who represented him.
Officials with the public defender's office did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday.