SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — After being understaffed for decades Missouri will finally hire more public defenders.
Lawmakers passed House Bill 12 which will add 53 new public attorneys to the system.
Director Mary Fox says the Public Defender System started in the 1980s.
“Case numbers continued to go up, and public defender system since the 1990s, never received a substantially large number of attorneys,” said Fox. ” So this will have a significant impact on our offices and the staff.”
In addition, it can be life-changing for the 800 people currently on the waiting list.
“Our goal is by adding additional staff, we can reduce the individual attorney’s caseloads to a level where they can provide effective assistance of counsel,” said Fox.
This could also take some of the pressure off of the current attorney’s shoulders.
“We have excellent attorneys in the system, but when you have too many cases, things will always fall through the cracks,” said Fox.
Fox says a public defender receives many benefits.
“Salary starts in the mid-’40s, and our attorneys and all of our staff in our system are state employees, we have excellent benefits as state employees,” said Fox. ” Health insurance, life insurance, annual leave, sick time.”
The system also pays for bar dues and provides continuing legal education required by the Supreme Court.
“We’re very grateful to the legislature and the governor and we are hopeful that with the addition of these attorneys, we will be able to move forward and fulfill the constitutional mandate that we have been given,” said Fox.
Fox says their system will start to make offers as soon as Governor parson signs the bill.