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Missouri Supreme Court rules on public defender case

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The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that a judge should not have appointed a public defender to a client after the public defenders alerted the courts they had too many cases.

The court handed down the 4-3 decision Tuesday.

The case goes back to July 2010 when a Christian County judge appointed a public defender despite their "limited availability" status.

Christian County prosecutor Amy Fite says it’s hard on victims and defendants when cases are held up.

She says the high court also offered ways that might help public defenders from getting to the point that they must turn away cases.

"I think everyone has an interest in making the system work, but if one cog can just stop what they’re doing the potential harm to everyone is great," Fite said. "I hope we don’t have to realize that harm. I hope we’re able to work together."

The director of the Missouri public defender system, Cat Kelly, says the ruling was good news but doesn’t mean the problem will go away.

"It doesn’t solve the problem of too many cases in need of lawyers, but it takes the problem off the backs of public defenders and it makes it visible just how badly we need more lawyers," Kelly said.

Kelly said funding to hire more public defenders would help, as well as taking jail time off the books for some more minor crimes.

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.