Some asking for more public defender attorneys - KCTV5

Some asking for more public defender attorneys to help with high caseloads

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The director of Missouri's public defender system said no matter how much money anyone has in their wallet, everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law, and a constitutional right is in jeopardy because the criminal justice system is in crisis.

Cat Kelly said that means more funding is needed to make sure those who can't afford an attorney still receive proper representation.

File cabinets filled to the brim represent the 6,000 cases 35 Jackson County Public Defenders handle every year. That means at any given moment, one public defender is juggling between 50 and 100 cases. Kelly said the caseloads are even higher in other Missouri counties.

"Too many cases and too few attorneys statewide. It's been a problem forever, and I've been a public defender for over 24 years," Assistant District Defender Leon Munday said.

It's a constitutional requirement that public defenders say is not being adequately funded.

"It's sexier to spend money on police, prosecutors, jails or prisons. Without zealous defense, the system is eroded. Confidence in the system is eroded. The Constitution is violated," Munday said.

The director is asking lawmakers for 70 more attorneys and support staff. She also wants the state to hire private attorneys to handle conflict cases – cases that involve more than one person charged with the same crime. She said without the funding the state could violate the constitutional requirement of a right to an attorney.

"I don't think anybody in this state or this country thinks that we should have two justice systems - one for people who have money and one for people who don't," Kelly said.

Munday said without the proper staffing, justice can be delayed for victims of violent crimes and those who are innocent waiting for their day in court.

"If you want to have this many prosecutions, you are going to have to provide the appropriate number of public defenders or something's got to give. We don't want it to be the integrity of the criminal justice system," he said.

Public defenders in some Missouri counties began turning indigent clients away because their caseloads were too high. Last year lawmakers approved an extra $1.163 million for caseload relief.

So far public defenders receive about $440,000. They have yet to receive the rest of the total.

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