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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name In re: Missouri State Public Defender PD-MO-0005
Docket / Court 18SL-CC00129 ( State Court )
Additional Docket(s) SC97612  [ 18-97612 ]  Supreme Court (MO)
ED 106576  [ 18-106576 ]  Appellate Court (MO)
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Indigent Defense
Case Summary
This case was filed on January 18, 2018 by Missouri public defender Stephen Reynolds in St. Louis County Circuit Court in Missouri. The case was filed in the form of a "Motion Requesting Conference to Discuss Caseload Issues," pursuant to a Missouri statute that allowed individual public defenders ... read more >
This case was filed on January 18, 2018 by Missouri public defender Stephen Reynolds in St. Louis County Circuit Court in Missouri. The case was filed in the form of a "Motion Requesting Conference to Discuss Caseload Issues," pursuant to a Missouri statute that allowed individual public defenders to notify the court of excessive caseloads. However, the motion was unusual in that it concerned the caseload of the entire St. Louis County public defender's office. The filing followed approximately a year's worth of out-of-court meetings between the public defender's office and the St. Louis County courts and prosecutors regarding what the public defender's office viewed as ethical and constitutional issues arising from excessive caseloads for public defenders.

The motion was granted and the hearing took place on February 16, 2018. It consisted of an on-the-record conference between Judge Douglas Beach, senior county prosecutors, and representatives of the public defender's office. At the conference, the public defender's office introduced statistical evidence showing the office's workload on an attorney-by-attorney basis, and alleged that the workload was excessive when assessed in light of relevant scholarship. Furthermore, the defender's office requested relief pursuant to the law under which the motion had been filed, asking the court to grant continuances, assign cases to private counsel, and decline to incarcerate defendants for alleged probation violations.

On March 19, 2018, Judge Beach issued an order granting in part the public defender's office's request for caseload relief. Judge Beach stressed that the statute under which the motion was filed was intended to address individual defenders, rather than office-wide issues. Therefore the judge declined to apply relief on an office-wide basis.

However, Judge Beach found "cognizable reasons" to believe that a group of 20 public defenders had excessive caseloads which prevented them from carrying out ethical obligations to clients. The judge ordered that a maximum number of cases per public defender would be designated, and that henceforth cases would not be assigned to attorneys in excess of the designated number. The order mandated the appointment of private attorneys in certain drug offense cases, where necessary to maintain appropriate public defender workload. Furthermore, Judge Beach ordered that defendants in probation hearings and other proceedings be screened and only referred to a public defender if representation was required by the due process clauses of the United States and Missouri Constitutions.

On April 2, 2018, Judge Beach's order was appealed by the St. Louis County prosecutor's office. On December 26, 2018, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District (Judge James Dowd) issued an opinion referring the matter directly to the Missouri Supreme Court "because of the general interest and importance of the issues presented." Judge Dowd explained in a detailed opinion that notwithstanding his referral, he would have reversed the order granting relief to the public defenders and instruct that the matter be resolved as an "administrative action" regarding docket organization, rather than a "court-tried civil action." In Judge Dowd's view, the statute only authorized administrative actions rather than full fledged civil cases. 2018 WL 6787054.

As of February 15, 2019, the case has been accepted for referral by the Missouri Supreme Court. On January 8, 2019, the supreme court's docket was updated to reflect that the prosecutor's office had withdrawn their appeal of the matter. The current status of the case is unclear.

Nathaniel Flack - 02/15/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Quality of representation
Plaintiff Type
City/County Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) St. Louis County
Plaintiff Description Missouri public defenders, St. Louis County
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted Moot
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Unknown
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 2018
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense
Date: 2011
By: Norman Lefstein (Indiana University--Indianapolis Faculty)
Citation: (ABA 2011)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel.
Date: Apr. 14, 2009
By: National Right to Counsel Committee (The Constitution Project)
Citation: National Right to Counsel Committee, Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel (2009)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  The Third Generation of Indigent Defense Litigation
New York University Review of Law and Social Change
Date: 2009
By: Cara Drinan (Columbus School of Law, Catholic University Faculty)
Citation: 33 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 427 (2009)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Indigent Defense Reform: The Role of Systemic Litigation in Operationalizing the Gideon Right to Counsel
Date: May 7, 2007
By: Vidhya K. Reddy (Washington University in St. Louis Law Student)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

Docket(s)
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General Documents
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