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Columbia-based public defender gets probation for neglecting clients

Case highlights public defender system concerns

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - On Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court put a Columbia-based public defender on probation after he admitted to neglecting six clients.

Karl Hinkebein claimed he was sick and dealing with too many cases when he failed to properly represent and communicate with the clients between 2011 and 2014.

In court documents, Hinkebein's supervisor said the public defender was in and out of the hospital several times.

"Karl, out of all the people in our office, may be the last person to ask for help. He just doesn't function that way," said the supervisor. "He is dedicated and has a very good work ethic. It's just his personality. I think I made a poor assumption that he was able to keep up and he wasn't and ultimately things snowballed from there to where we realized there were several cases in trouble."

The ruling on Hinkebein's case comes just six months after the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Gov. Eric Greitens, Missouri State Public Defender Director Michael Barrett and others over underfunding that it claims has led to defenders having little time to appropriately represent their clients.

In March, ACLU legal director Tony Rothert told ABC 17 News, "[The public defenders] are too overburdened and under-resourced to argue for their clients release from jail pending trial, and the result is constant injustice." 

A state agency wanted to suspend Hinkebein for a year, but his attorney argued for a lighter punishment. 

His license could still get suspended if he doesn't follow Tuesday's decision.


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