"This isn't justice:" Public defender on state of the department

2 years 2 months 2 days ago Thursday, March 17 2016 Mar 17, 2016 Thursday, March 17, 2016 12:11:00 PM CDT March 17, 2016 in Top Stories
By: Taylor Stevens, KOMU 8 Reporter
loading

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri public defenders are experiencing a crisis according to their director, Michael Barrett. He said too many cases and not enough defenders has put a strain on the department.

Walter Stokely is a public defender in Cole County, and he agrees that the large amount of work poses a challenge to public defenders.

"Every single minute of every single day that I am at work, I feel overwhelmed by the case load," Stokely said.

He said his job requires him to visit with clients either in his office or in the county jails or state prisons. He also has to work through cases at the courthouse, attend alternative treatment programs with clients, do legal research and prepare for hearings and trials.

Stokely said he has twice had to fulfill all of those jobs for 200 cases at one time, something he said is a problem when it comes to adequate representation.

"It's way more than an attorney doing a competent, diligent job should be asked to handle," Stokely said. "Each case you get is a new person to know. It's a new set of facts to acquaint yourself with, and depending on how much experience you've had with that particular charge, it may be a whole new area of law to get to know."                    

A 2014 study of the Missouri State Public Defender System said that in class A and B felony cases, including murder, child rape, kidnapping and manslaughter, public defenders should spend 38.9 hours on each case, but in Missouri, they spend only 8.7 hours on each case.

In the study, the National Center for State Courts said Missouri's public defenders' protocol "suffers significantly" from its failure to depart from guidelines set by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals established in 1973. The standards recommended public defenders take on the maximum number of cases. Stokely said the large case load can harm the representation of his clients.

"If you're asking me to adequately defend somebody who's facing 30 years in prison - which is a life sentence in Missouri - just a few hours to devote to that case is not going to be enough to do a good job for that person," Stokely said.

The department is also experiencing a high turnover rate of attorneys due to a lack of funding and an abundance of case work.

Kim Kollmeyer worked as a public defender for more than three years before moving to private practice last October. She said she became a public defender to help people, but it wasn't long before the load took a toll on her work.

"It's not appropriate when you have people saying 'help me,' and you just don't have the time or energy to fight those battles," Kollmeyer said, "And those battles are deserving."

Kollmeyer also said the case load caused her to choose which cases to prioritize.

"I found myself in a position where there were too many battles, and I was having to select which angle I wanted to approach, which angle I wanted to fight," Kollmeyer said. "They were all deserving battles, but I was not in a position to take every element of the fight all at once."

Kollmeyer and Stokely both said public defenders give as much effort as they can to all of their cases. Kollmeyer said licenses for all attorneys require them to take as many cases as they can and turn down the ones they don't have time for; public defenders, however, are required to take every case that comes their way.

"They have so many cases going on at any given time that they simply don't have as much time to devote to a case as they'd like to," Kollmeyer said. "They're doing the best they can in very bad circumstances."

Stokely said a solution to the public defenders' crisis is in the hands of lawmakers. He said the legislature could allocate more money to the department so it can hire more attorneys. He said more attorneys would mean spreading the case load out to more people, which would ultimately mean better representation. Stokely said adequate representation of the public is at the core of the crisis.

"It's the Capitol's job to see that the constitutional rights of Missourians are upheld," Stokely said. "They all took an oath to uphold the United States Constitution and the Missouri Constitution, and assistance of counsel is a guaranteed right under both of those documents."

Kollmeyer said the legislature has increased funding for multiple aspects of law enforcement, and an increase in law enforcement quality means more cases coming to public defenders' desks, but there aren't any more attorneys to tackle the growing neeed.

"This isn't justice," Stokely said. "The Constitution guarantees a right to an attorney, and right now, my clients have part of an attorney because my attention is divided. So we are not fulfilling our constitutional obligation. We need more attorneys."                                                                                                                                                               

More News

Grid
List
FULTON - All 6-year-old Sam Santhuff wanted to do was comfort children in the hospital, even though he was there... More >>
4 hours ago Sunday, May 20 2018 May 20, 2018 Sunday, May 20, 2018 6:47:00 AM CDT May 20, 2018 in News
KINGDOM CITY- The Fire Fighters Memorial Foundation of Missouri will honor three firefighters who died in the line of duty.... More >>
15 hours ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 7:53:00 PM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
CAMDEN COUNTY - The Missouri State Highway Patrol has released the identities of the three people killed and the two... More >>
16 hours ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 6:42:00 PM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Children in Columbia have a chance to get paid to play. Columbia Parks and Recreation started its... More >>
17 hours ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 6:10:00 PM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
HAVANA (AP) — The Latest on the crash in Cuba of a passenger jet with 113 people on board (all... More >>
17 hours ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 5:23:00 PM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Over 90 people showed up at the Burr Oak Brewery for an afternoon of puppies, yoga and beer... More >>
18 hours ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 4:50:00 PM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Although it is nowhere near Halloween, some Columbia runners faced their fears by participating in a zombie-themed 5K... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 11:12:00 AM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA- The city of Columbia has been ranked a top-ten affordable college town to live in by realtor.com. Factors... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:41:00 AM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Mississippi River is above flood stage at several northeast Missouri locations, but forecasters do... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 9:29:44 AM CDT May 19, 2018 in Continuous News
(CNN) -- And they're married! Britain's Prince Harry and US actress Meghan Markle were wed Saturday at Windsor... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, May 19 2018 May 19, 2018 Saturday, May 19, 2018 7:09:00 AM CDT May 19, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA- The United states is experiencing one of the lowest birth rates in 30 years, according to the Centers for... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 9:08:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Attorney General Josh Hawley says attorneys helping Gov. Eric Greitens through impeachment proceedings are acting improperly. "By... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 8:34:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - The annual Backyard Concert Series kicks off Saturday evening at the Jefferson Landing Historic site. Missouri... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 6:45:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY –Missourians will soon be able to keep a little more money from their paychecks, after a state House... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 6:33:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
MADISON (AP) — A Columbia man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for a shooting death... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 4:40:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
WARSAW (AP) — Authorities say the police chief of a western Missouri town was wounded after a 16-year-old boy shot... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 4:24:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Missouri's Republican-led Legislature approved tax cuts for both individuals and corporations Friday and sent a gas-tax... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 4:18:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Local veterans return home from combat having experienced things average citizens could not even imagine. Douglas Wilbur,... More >>
1 day ago Friday, May 18 2018 May 18, 2018 Friday, May 18, 2018 4:17:00 PM CDT May 18, 2018 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 65°
12pm 67°
1pm 71°
2pm 74°
3pm 79°