Trial Courts Deciding Where to Assign Overflow Cases

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COLUMBIA -- The implementation of a new policy will set the maximum number of cases for Boone County and Callaway County public defender's offices. Before that change goes into place on Oct. 1, trial courts must decide how to assign overflow cases after public defenders meet their total number of caseload hours.

Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Gary Oxenhandler suggested assigning private attorneys, or anyone licensed through The Missouri Bar, to handle overflow cases.

The Missouri Supreme Court set the caseload hours cap after a ruling in Christian County. The ruling stated that a judge should not have appointed a public defender to take a case after the local office met its maximum caseload. 

Next month, the Boone County district office will start each month with 1,735 caseload hours. Each case assigned to that office will deduct a certain number of hours from an office's total; a probation case takes an average of five hours while a murder case takes an average of 173 hours. Once an office reaches maximum capacity, overflow cases must be assigned elsewhere.

District Defender David Wallis said this policy will help public defenders handle cases more efficiently.

Wallis added that there are two challenges going forward: Trial courts prioritizing cases for assignment and figuring out which attorneys will receive the overflow cases.