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Public defender asks court to look elsewhere due to high workload

Public defender asks court to look...

TUSCUMBIA, Mo. - A public defender serving Miller County wants the court to look elsewhere for help on a case due to his office's high workload.

The motion filed by Justin Carver, the district defender in the state's Area 19, asks a judge to appoint a state-hired lawyer for John Powell's case. Powell is accused of assault and armed criminal action in a stabbing that killed Mark Johnson last month.

Carver's area covers Miller, Cole and Moniteau counties. The motion calls for the appointment of a lawyer "outside of the Public Defender System" that the state employs. Attorneys within the district are "overburdened with cases", Carver wrote, and the court should turn to other publicly-employed attorneys to take the case.

"Outside of the Public Defender System, the State of Missouri employs a significant number of lawyers, such as those who work for the various departments, agencies, legislative research, etc.," the motion said.

Carver also suggested the court appoint a private attorney or dismiss the case altogether.

"He very much needs a lawyer," Carver said of Powell. "I don't have anyone in my office. I don't have anybody I can give the case to that doesn't have too much work to do."

The motion comes as public defender offices are looking for ways to handle their workload in the wake of the Missouri Supreme Court decision to punish a public defender. The court decided to put Karl Hinkebein's law license on probation for a year due to his lack of communication with several clients over several years.

Carver told ABC 17 News that his office began filing these motions in January after several people left his office. The area currently has five attorneys, including himself, to handle cases. His own personal caseload is over 200 cases, Carver said. 

"Right now, my office is completely unable to accept new cases, and frankly, we have been for some time," Carver said.

Since January, Carver said six of the eight employees have left or become unable to take cases. Right now, the district employs four other attorneys to take cases along with Carver. That turnover has made it hard to get consistency for people's cases, Carver said.

So far, no judge has appointed a state-employed lawyer, Carver said, but some Cole County cases have received the help of private attorneys.

Boone County Presiding Judge Kevin Crane ordered private attorneys to take cases the public defender would otherwise handle. District defenders there requested that judges stop appointing them to cases due to fears of disbarment, similar to the Hinkebein situation. Boone County court officials said late Wednesday that they have appointed 42 private attorneys to cases, so far.

 


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