Missouri governor defends record on public defender budget

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By SUMMER BALLENTINE
Associated Press
(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday defended his budget record for the state’s public defender system after the office’s director appointed him to a case in protest of recent funding restrictions.
Missouri State Public Defender Director Michael Barrett in a letter last week slammed Nixon for cutting funding for what Barrett described as an “indigent” defense system.
After a news conference in Jefferson City, Nixon responded by touting a 15 percent increase in the office’s budget since he’s been governor. That amounts to roughly $5.4 million more, from about $35.7 million in fiscal year 2009 to about $41.1 million in the current fiscal year.
Nixon said about $1.8 million set aside for the agency last fiscal year went unspent and said the office “ought to make sure that they’re getting the most efficiency they can out of the dollars they have.”
“I’m not saying folks don’t deserve lawyers, but bottom line is there’s a lot of needs in government,” Nixon said.
The recent pushback came after lawmakers budgeted a $4.5 million funding increase for the office this fiscal year. The additional funding followed warnings from Barrett that his office needs almost twice as many attorneys and that because of their large workloads, public defenders were spending 40 percent less time on cases than private defense attorneys would.
Nixon then cut that down to a $1 million increase, citing lagging revenue growth. The Public Defender System last month filed a lawsuit over Nixon’s funding restriction.
Barrett said the percentage increase in the system’s budget since Nixon took office doesn’t amount to much more in actual cash. He added that the number of cases, litigation costs and attorney dues have also gone up, meaning not all of the additional funding can go toward hiring more lawyers.
Barrett also said the office spent all but 52 cents of the money it received last fiscal year for legal services.