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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Missouri governor – who cut funding to public defender system – assigned to be public defender on case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The head of Missouri’s public defender system said he is appointing Gov. Jay Nixon to handle a case in protest of declining funding.

Michael Barrett, the director of Missouri’s Public Defender System, wrote in a letter this week that repeated budget cuts have left his office unable to hire enough public defenders for people who can’t afford representation. The letter to Nixon was dated Tuesday and posted Wednesday on the office’s website.

Barrett said the law allows him to appoint any Missouri attorney to secure representation for indigent clients. He said he’s starting with Nixon, a former attorney general.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances that compel me to entertain any and all avenues for relief, it strikes me that I should begin with the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it,” Barrett wrote.

Nixon’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email Thursday seeking comment.

The Missouri’s Public Defender System last month filed a lawsuit over its funding. Barrett told lawmakers in February 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.

No details were immediately available about the case Nixon was asked to handle. Barrett said he would be available to answer questions later Thursday.

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