Private attorneys ordered to take some criminal cases free because of backlog

3 weeks 2 days 17 hours ago Thursday, September 28 2017 Sep 28, 2017 Thursday, September 28, 2017 3:29:00 PM CDT September 28, 2017 in News
By: Adam Duxter, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - Private attorneys in Boone County will be required to hear certain cases for free because the public defender's office cannot handle its current workload.

This comes after a decision from Boone County judge Kevin Crane on Tuesday. 

The private attorneys will be selected at random to represent criminal defendants. The Boone County Court said, without this measure, it would be too backlogged.

"The cases would have to be moved to a wait list, so Judge Crane will be appointing private counsel instead to certain criminal cases," said Mary Epping, the Boone County Court administrator. 

It's not the first time this has happened in Boone County, although the last time there was more of notice for private attorneys in town. 

"In 2012, we had a month's notice before we had to start making appointments. This time around, we got the notice on Tuesday. We are concerned about the constitutional rights of the people in the jail right now," Epping said.

Kevin O'Brien, a former public defender who now practices privately in Columbia, said backups in the public defenders office are common.

"The turnover is so high. You're constantly in the process of training new attorneys whose experience levels are very different. You have to rely on the attorneys with more experience, which can create more problems," O'Brien said. 

Even though there is precedence, O'Brien said it doesn't make it any more fair to private attorneys in town. 

"It completely ignores that, not only is your labor being co-opted for free, but your resources are as well. It takes money and it takes resources to litigate a case. It's not only a taking of your labor, but of your resources and your staff. For no compensation, it seems unfair," he said.

O'Brien said private attorneys are always busy too.

"It's unfair to pretend that public defenders are any more overwhelmed than anyone else. To kind of work through this illusion that private attorneys are independently wealthy, they don't have any obligations, and that they have no limit to their resources is completely false."

He said this cannot be a long term fix.

"This is nothing but a band-aid for this problem and it's unfair to the private bar," he said.

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