Public defender of 40 years stepping down to save jobs - KCTV5

Public defender of 40 years stepping down to save co-workers' jobs

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A man who's been in his job as a public defender for 40 years is stepping down so that his co-workers won't lose their jobs.

There's a sharp divide at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City right now. The public defense side of the courtroom has taken harsh cuts and employee furloughs, while the prosecutor's side has not.

The lights are out at Kansas City's federal public defender offices, but the phones never stop ringing. No one's there to answer because federal sequestration forced staff into taking two furlough days a pay period. That's now dropping down to one, but more cuts loom next year.

"I felt like this is an impossible situation unless I lay off people," said Ray Conrad, the head public defender for the Missouri Western District.

So Conrad did something painful – he looked around the office where he's spent 40 years, at colleagues he's worked with for decades and decided who had to go.

"Rather than tell somebody, ‘you're going to be fired' without cause, I decided I would retire," he said.

Conrad stepping down will stave off other staff cuts and restore some money for critical resources. Right now the office can't afford transcripts, expert witnesses or translators.

"I have four or five right now Spanish-speaking clients I can't talk to because I don't have money for an interpreter," said Assistant Federal Public Defender Laine Cardarella.

Public defenders handle 65 percent of western Missouri's criminal defendants and they see their work as a calling.

"We are grounded in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, so to cut our funding is to put a knife in the Constitution," Cardarella said.

"I'm not about to have a single client denied the effective representation that he or she requires," Conrad said.

So with heavy hearts for their leader moving on and the phones still ringing, those left behind prepare for an even heavier burden.

"We were already David against Goliath, David won," Cardarella said. "It's a lot harder for us, it's a lot harder for us."

Conrad steps down June 1 and won't be replaced for some time. The department's chief investigator is also retiring early to help.

For the critical resources, attorneys are applying to the court on a case-by-case basis for funding.

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