Missouri public defender director asks Nixon for $10 million

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By SUMMER BALLENTINE

(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — The director of Missouri’s public defender system on Monday announced he’s asking Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon for an additional $10 million this fiscal year, saying that the money is needed to help the agency adequately represent the state’s poorest individuals charged with crimes.
Director Michael Barrett cited a U.S. Department of Justice report released in July on the St. Louis County Family Court, which in part said young people accused of crimes often lack proper legal representation. It also said black youths are treated more harshly than whites, and juveniles are often deprived of constitutional rights.
Barrett said the federal report is just one example of inadequate legal representation caused by underfunding. He also said protests following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014 “resulted from chronic civil rights violations experienced by some of the most vulnerable Missourians.”
“This leads me to a rather obvious suggestion,” Barrett wrote in a letter to Nixon dated Friday. “Instead of paying millions to respond to civil unrest brought about by injustice, why not simply provide the justice?”
The budget director in December had estimated the cost of sending the National Guard and Highway Patrol to the area for security was more than $12.5 million.
Nixon’s office declined to comment Monday about the request for more money. But budget director Dan Haug said actual spending for the agency has gone up roughly $2.4 million while Nixon’s been in office, from about $36 million in fiscal year 2010 to about $38.4 million in fiscal year 2015.
Barrett, meanwhile, criticized the governor for blocking the agency from spending millions that lawmakers set aside to pay for private attorneys to represent certain clients in conflict cases.
In total, Haug said the governor restricted about $3.6 million in spending from the Office of the State Public Defender last fiscal year. Nixon eventually released all of that money, but a substantial chunk — $2.97 million — was unfrozen at the very end of the year and the agency was unable to spend it before a June 30 deadline.
Barrett called that “frustrating.”
Barrett said the agency’s most pressing need is for more public defenders, and said the $10 million in part could pay for an additional 10 attorneys and support staff for juvenile advocacy offices. He estimated about $3.3 million could pay for 48 assistant public defenders for the most overloaded offices.
House budget chairman Rep. Tom Flanigan on Monday said he had not seen Barrett’s request for more money, but said that money can only be appropriated with lawmaker approval once the next legislative session begins in January.
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