Missouri Gov Jay Nixon Cut Budget For Public Defenders, So Now He Has To Be One
You broke it, you bought it
In the sort of story we wish would happen more often, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has been ordered to represent a criminal defendant at trial, because the head of the office that provides public defenders has had it with his agency being chronically underfunded. Michael Barrett, the director of the Missouri State Public Defender’s office, sent Nixon what has to be among the top 10 business letters of all time to inform him of the decision. A couple of excerpts:
Barrett goes on to explain that without proper funding, he cannot hire attorneys to provide constitutionally mandated defenses for indigent defendants. He notes that under Missouri law, the Director of the Public Defender System does have the authority to "[d]elegate the legal representation of any person to any member of the state bar of Missouri," but that he hasn't yet done so, since he believes it's wrong to force private attorneys to provide a service that the state is constitutionally required to. Oh, but there is one member of the state bar he thinks it would be appropriate to place that burden on:
This is easily one of the greatest letters ever, right up with that letter from the Cleveland Browns f'ball team advising a lawyer who'd griped about the "danger" of fans flying paper airplanes,
Attached is a letter that we received on November 19, 1974. I feel that you should be aware that some asshole is signing your name to stupid letters.
Barrett has no regrets about ordering the governor to get his ass behind a defense table and do some lawyering for the indigent:
“The government funds a lot of things. We’re one of the few things that you have to fund,” Barrett told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview on Wednesday night. “You’ve got to pay so that people can get their constitutional rights. Before someone gets incarcerated after being prosecuted by the state, they deserve a lawyer. And that’s the state’s obligation.” [...]
“The governor, being an attorney in good standing … continues to enjoy all the rights and privileges of being an attorney. I think he should also be burdened with the obligations placed on attorneys in the state,” Barrett said. “And one of those burdens is to be ready to be appointed as counsel either by the judge or by me, pursuant to this section of law.”
While Barrett wouldn't give too many details about the case he's assigned to Gov. Nixon, because privacy, he did say the defendant is currently out on bond, so he won't have to sit in jail until the governor does his assigned job as defense attorney. Nixon's office has not yet commented on the order; Barrett says that one way or another, he expects to see Nixon in court, either defending the client, or perhaps arguing that as head of the executive branch, he'd have a conflict because the governor oversees law enforcement. Barrett says if that happens,
I simply say this: ‘We’re in the judiciary branch of government, and you — in a violation of separation of powers -- reached over and used the lack of revenues to try and weaken a coequal branch of government designed to keep the executive in check.”
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you can weaken us, then I can certainly appoint a member of the executive branch. He has no actual conflict because he had no involvement in this case. He’s not monitoring the police department who made this arrest,” Barrett said.
Gotta like a sassy defense attorney who takes his job -- and the job done by lawyers in his office -- seriously. Barrett also points out that an overworked, underfunded public defense system contributes to prison overcrowding in Missouri, so any money saved by skimping on criminal defense is more than eaten up by filling jails with defendants awaiting trial, and the prisons with at least some convicts who don't need to be incarcerated.
If Nixon refuses to defend the case or challenges his appointment, then the defendant will simply be assigned another attorney, so he's not a pawn in the fight between Barrett and Nixon.
Now if we could somehow find a way to put Barrett in charge of making the Senate do its job and confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court...
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.