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Report finds Missouri public defender system in crisis

By Maria Altman, KWMU

St. Louis, MO. – A recently-released study says Missouri's Public Defender system is "heading for disaster."

The study finds Missouri is last in per capita expenditure compared to other state public defender systems.

Researchers also say Missouri's public defenders often have twice as many cases as the maximum recommended caseload.

Robert Spangenberg heads up the group that did the study. He says the state's system has been seeking relief for years.

"They have been working diligently for six or seven or eight years going to the legislature each year, going to the court, going to the executive, and there's no one home," Spangenberg said.

Last spring the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill allowing the Public Defender Commission to turn away certain cases when overloaded, but the governor vetoed it.

The Missouri Public Commission put a rule in effect last year allowing it to deny certain cases when caseloads grow too heavy.

The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week in two cases challenging that rule.