Q. Why is the Court implementing a wait list now? A. On Oct. 28, 2019, Stephen Reynolds, District Defender of the St. Louis Trial Office of the Missouri State Public Defender, filed a motion with this court to implement a wait list of defendants who qualify for public defender services, pursuant to RSMO 600.063.3(5) Casenet #18SL-CC00129.
Q. Why was a wait list necessary? A. Years of data from the MSPD show that the public defenders in St. Louis County have caseloads far in excess of recommended caseload metrics (Rubin-Brown caseload study). (See Attachments A, B, C to Reynolds motion in #18SL-CC00129) Excess caseloads put public defenders at ethical risk of being unable to provide adequate counsel to indigent defendants. Judges in St. Louis County, having been made aware of this issue, have an ethical and constitutional responsibility to ensure that all criminal defendants have adequate representation.
Q. The previous prosecutor opposed the idea of a wait list. Does the current prosecutor feel differently? A. We understand that the current prosecutor has indicated that the office will not oppose the establishment of a wait list.
Q. How will you find the lawyers to handle the cases? A. We are working with the Missouri Bar to obtain the data of the eligible attorneys who reside in St. Louis County. We will create a database of these attorneys and randomly select attorneys for appointment. Once an attorney has successfully completed his or her pro bono service, they will not be made available for a new appointment until we have worked through our full list.
Q. Will they all be criminal attorneys? If not, how will they be trained and by whom? A. We will be offering training for all attorneys appointed under this local court rule.
Q. Will volunteer attorneys receive any compensation? A. Appointed counsel will not be paid for their services. However, any litigation expenses (such as depositions or experts) may be paid for by MSPD as long as the appointed attorney obtains advance approval before encumbering the expense.
Q. How much money will the state save by relying on private volunteers? A. We do not have the ability to conduct such a fiscal analysis, so we do not know how much money might be saved. As a circuit, we are trying to work productively and proactively with all stakeholders to ensure that St. Louis County delivers efficient justice services to its residents, while ensuring that constitutional requirements of due process and effective assistance of counsel are afforded to all criminal defendants appearing in our courts.
Q. Is it fair to indigent defendants to assign them to an attorney with no experience in criminal matters? A. We have designed our rule and implementation protocol to ensure that private attorneys are properly trained to represent the clients on carefully selected cases. We do not intend to require private counsel to represent confined defendants, or those with complicated cases or who are charged with high-level felonies requiring incarceration. We intend to appoint counsel on lower-level charges, where the defendant’s likely outcome is probation, regardless of whether they plead guilty or request a trial.
Q. What types of defendants will be put on the wait list, and by whom?A. We are still working out the timing, but we anticipate that the Public Defender will start placing eligible criminal defendants on the wait list as soon as the administrative order approving the wait list goes into effect later this year. The wait list is for cases that are relatively uncomplicated, including:
- Defendants who are out on bond
- Defendants charged with low level felonies
- Defendants who are first-time or second-time offenders
- Defendants with offers of probation
- Defendants without immigration problems, mental health issues or plea offers requiring any type of incarceration.
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