Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Criminal Law - Indigent Defense - Missouri Court Refuses Public Defender's Delegation of Indigent Legal Representation to Governor - State V. Quehl

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Criminal Law - Indigent Defense - Missouri Court Refuses Public Defender's Delegation of Indigent Legal Representation to Governor - State V. Quehl

Article excerpt

CRIMINAL LAW--INDIGENT DEFENSE--MISSOURI COURT REFUSES PUBLIC DEFENDER'S DELEGATION OF INDIGENT LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO GOVERNOR.--State V. Quehl, no. 15AC-CR00594-01 (Mo. Cir. Ct. Aug. 25, 2016).

In August 2016, the Missouri State Public Defender System (MSPD) grabbed headlines with a bold announcement: with too little funding and too few lawyers to meet his office's caseload, Director Michael Barrett would, for the first time, exercise his office's statutory authority to "[d]elegate the legal representation of any person to any member of the state bar of Missouri." (1) The member in question, the Director wrote in his open letter, "not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it" (2)--Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, Bar Number 29603. The story resulted in national media coverage (3) and renewed attention to the sorry state of indigent defense in Missouri (4) and elsewhere. It was of particular relevance, though, to Johnny Dean Quehl. On August 10th, a notice was filed in his case: the Director would be moving to withdraw MSPD from Quehl's case and delegating his representation to Governor Nixon. (5) But two weeks later, a Missouri court denied the motion. (6) While the court's order is understandable for political and pragmatic reasons, it was in no way required: the court could reasonably have found that the statute granted the director a freestanding delegation authority. In fact, in light of the Missouri judiciary's history of aggressive intervention in support of indigent defense, it is possible that the court would agree with the Director's interpretation in a less politically charged case, supplying a potentially valuable tool for putting pressure on the political branches. Prior to 1972, Missouri had no public defender system. Instead, indigent defendants were represented by members of the private bar, appointed by the courts without compensation. (7) That year, the legislature created the MSPD, establishing offices, funding staff public defenders, and setting money aside for appointed counsel. (8) The private counsel system was later replaced by contract counsel--"private attorneys who...agreed to take on all indigent clients in a particular area for a set fee." (9) In 1982, the MSPD was reorganized, establishing the Office of the Public Defender as an independent judicial department. (10) By 1989, contract counsel were almost entirely replaced with full-time public defenders. (11)

This reorganization, however, never resulted in adequate funding. By 2008, Missouri spent less per capita on indigent defendants than did any state but Mississippi. (12) In 2015, the General Assembly responded by attempting to appropriate an additional $3.4 million for indigent defense, but the Governor vetoed the bill. (13) When the General Assembly overrode the veto, the Governor withheld the funds. (14) In 2016, Missouri continued to rank forty-ninth in the country in the provision of resources to indigent defense. (15) Without the money or the lawyers to defend his office's clients, the Director announced that the representation of one, Quehl, (16) would be delegated to the Governor who had vetoed additional funding.

The Director's letter and notice cited to the statute that laid out the duties and powers of the director of the Missouri Public Defender Commission. (17) The law provided that the director "may...[d]elegate the legal representation of any person to any member of the state bar of Missouri." (18) This provision, the Director maintained in his letter, placed with his office the authority to delegate a case to any member of the bar, (19) but he stated he had never exercised it out of his "sincere belief that it is wrong to reassign an obligation placed on the state...to private attorneys who have in no way contributed to the current crisis." (20) Governor Nixon's own great contribution to the funding crisis, (21) however, assuaged all such concerns.

The State opposed the Director's motion. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.