MO Public Defender-Prosecutor Controversy: More “Trash-Talking”


Missouri public defenders say they are overworked beyond the breaking point. Some prosecutors say they don’t believe it. And the sides cannot agree on a common set of numbers to frame their dispute, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, says that if he can prosecute 100 percent of the criminal cases with 31 trial lawyers, the public defender should be able to handle the 28 percent it represents with its 17 lawyers. It’s not 28 percent at all, says Cathy Kelly of the Missouri State Public Defender System. “It can’t be tracked,” she insisted. “None of us are counting cases in the same way.”

As the public defender system’s scattered offices became overloaded, it suspended acceptance of new clients in three court circuits for the remainder of July and warned that more would come. St. Louis County was among those formally warned. Since then, the number of counties put on notice has grown to 56 – including Jefferson and Lincoln but not the city of St. Louis. Waits for help could increase, and judges could face pressure to appoint private counsel to fill the gaps. Public defenders in Florida have taken similar measures, says the National Center for State Courts. Some critics have accused Missouri defenders of exaggerating their problems to pressure the Legislature for more money in tight times. Dean Dankelson, president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys,, called the tactics “reckless, self-interested and irresponsible,” and accused the defenders of “attempting to hold the entire criminal justice system hostage.” Kelly denied it, saying: “I find it silly and insulting that so much energy is being spent trash-talking. It’s not going to fix the problems.”

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