Public defenders claim to be overworked

Prosecutors and public defenders throughout Missouri are seeing growing caseloads. Offices in Troy, Mo. and Springfield, Mo. shut down last week, refusing to accept any new cases until the end of July. In past years, the number of cases has increased dramatically. Adair County Circuit Judge Russell Steele said that every citizen has the right to be represented equally.

When you TMre talking about people's constitutional rights and the right to have proper representation at trial, which protects them from possibly being wrongfully convicted of an offense which might deprive them of their liberties, we TMre talking about the way basic rights that people in our country should have, Steele also said. Right now, there are 283 open cases in Adair, Knox, Scotland, Schuyler, and Macon Counties; 61 of which have been open in July alone. Of all cases, there are only two public defenders to represent them. Each day I wake up wondering how I TMm going to get through the work day, said District Public Defender Kevin Locke. We TMve seen our case load steadily go up and when I say I TMm overworked, everybody TMs overworked. You are, the judge is; we TMre all overworked, so I don TMt want to complain about it on that basis, but the clients are the ones that suffer, Locke said. We just don TMt turn the clients aside and say we TMre not going to do the work. We will do the work, it just takes that much longer to get it done.

We TMre probably not at the forefront of this like some of the other communities are, said Adair County Associate Circuit Judge Kristie Swaim. Eventually things tend to work their way through most counties and regions. I think that at some point in time our state, every state, is going to have to decide how we TMre going to proceed from here in the big picture. Locke, Steele, and Swaim all agree that one partial solution to the problem would be hiring a third attorney to even the work load. However, that decision can only be made in the legislature since funding would have to come from the state.