JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is raising concerns with the Public Defender Commission’s proposed consent judgment with the American Civil Liberties Union to restrict working hours for public defenders.
The Attorney General’s Office filed a motion Tuesday to intervene in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
“Missourians deserve the very best out of our court system, and this proposed inside deal poses a threat and could do lasting damage to the justice system in Missouri,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “This proposed deal, which was negotiated in secrecy, harms the indigent citizens that rely on the State for representation and could threaten public safety at the same time. My job is to represent the people of Missouri, and they deserve to have a voice in this matter. Legislation by consent decree is an unacceptable way to conduct business.”
“The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys stands alongside the Attorney General,” said Tim Lohmar, St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney and President of MAPA. “It’s our collective duty to protect the safety of the public and to stand up and be heard when public safety is threatened.”
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, and the Missouri Police Chiefs Association have all signed on in support of Attorney General Schmitt’s action.
The Attorney General’s Office contends that the “proposed consent judgment – by requiring a public defender’s office to refuse cases when an attorney in the office’s caseload exceeds 40 hours per week” is in direct contradiction with Missouri law and upends the General Assembly’s intent to ensure that indigent citizens are provided with adequate representation.
In addition, the motion to intervene reads, “Under the proposed consent judgment, prosecutors may be asked to eliminate incarceration as a possible sentence in criminal proceedings. Courts may be required to entirely dismiss criminal cases. Individuals accused of some of the most serious felonies in Missouri – rape, kidnapping, armed robbery – may walk free without undergoing a trial because a public defender’s office will refuse to take any cases that will require an attorney to work more than 40 hours per week.”
Lastly, the motion argues, “the very terms in the proposed consent judgment undermine Missouri statutes that already provide mechanisms for the very situation supposedly warranting sweeping changes to Missouri’s criminal justice system.”