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Springfield Defender Office reaches case overload

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The Springfield public defender's office is booked solid for the rest of July, and officials expect a recurring case overload in the coming months.

The Missouri State Public Defender System announced July 22 the 20-lawyer office would be unable to accept any more cases until Aug. 1 due to case overload.

The Springfield office, which serves Greene, Christian and Taney counties,  can handle a little over 2,500 case hours a month, said Cat Kelly, MSPD deputy director.

For more than a year, the Greene County courts have attempted to divert cases from the public defender to avoid case overload but have only been mildly successful, according to an MSPD news release.

Tactics have included diversion of lesser crimes to jail-time free penalties and dismissal, Kelly said. She said this is because the risk of jail time is a "constitutional trigger" to the right to an attorney.

Even with the efforts, as of the end of June, the office was receiving cases requiring approximately 34 percent more attorney hours than the office can provide, the release said.

It is estimated that, without a large reduction in the amount of defendants needing defender services, the Springfield office will only be able to accept cases in the first two to three weeks of each month before closing its doors again, according to the release.

Due to a Missouri Supreme Court ruling in December 2009, Missouri public defenders cannot discriminate based on the seriousness of the charge, the release said. The office must take cases in the order in which they come and close its doors when it has reached capacity.

Greene, Christian and Taney are not the only Missouri counties in danger of case overload. As of July 22, Public Defender System Director J. Marty Robinson had given warning notices to 20 other judicial circuits in the state.

"It's a huge dilemma," Kelly said. "Every state agency is hurting."[[In-content Ad]]

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