HCS/SCS/SB 767 - This act modifies various provisions relating to the public defender system and the number of judges in various circuits.
After August 28, 2008, the number of circuit judges in the twenty-second judicial circuit shall be reduced by six circuit judges. Such reductions shall be the first six vacancies or the first six completions of the current terms of circuit judges occurring on or after such date.
Beginning October 1, 2008, there shall be two additional associate circuit judges in the twenty-first judicial circuit. The additional associate circuit judge shall sit in the city of Independence.
Beginning October 1, 2008, there shall be one additional associate circuit judge in the sixteenth judicial circuit.
Beginning October 1, 2008, there shall be two additional circuit judges in the thirty-first judicial circuit. Such judges shall be appointed by the governor to serve until the elected of such judges in 2010.
After August 28, 2008, the number of circuit judges in the forty-third judicial circuit shall be reduced by one circuit judge.
Beginning October 1, 2008, there shall be one additional associate circuit judge in the thirty-ninth judicial circuit, to be appointed by the governor until the election of such judge in 2010.
Beginning October 1, 2008, there shall be one additional associate circuit judge in the fortieth judicial circuit to be appointed by the governor until the election of such judge in 2010.
When a party is represented in a civil action by a legal aid clinic approved by a law school, or a nonprofit legal assistance program affiliated with such clinic, that utilizes the services of law students licensed under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 13.01, all costs and expenses related to the suit may be waived without the necessity of a motion and court approval, provided the clinic has determined the party is indigent.
This section redefines various positions within the public defender system, including assistant public defenders, contract counsel, deputy directors, deputy district defender, and district defender. The definitions reflect the current administrative structure of the public defender system.
This section specifies that the deputy director exercises the duties of the director on a temporary basis only, when the director is absent or has resigned, until the commission appoints a new director.
The public defender commission shall only continue to have the power to select the director and deputy directors and not other public defenders. This section also specifies that the commission shall only continue to have the authority to draw up procedures to select division directors and district defenders and not other public defenders and staff.
The commission shall also establish maximum public defender caseload standards in order to fulfill the constitutional obligation to provide effective counsel and comply with the rules of professional conduct. In doing so, the commission shall consider national defender caseload standards, particulars of local practice, the needs of the criminal justice system, and other pertinent factors.
Under this section, the director of the system shall be the employer of the public defender system employees rather than the commission and the employees shall serve at the pleasure of the director rather than the local public defender.
Public defenders shall no longer have a term of four years.
This section repeals the provision providing that the commission may appoint and fix the compensation of personnel for the system.
Currently, the commission may contract with private attorneys. Under this act, the commission may authorize the director to contract with such attorneys.
The state shall pay for the parking costs for public defender system employees.
Under this section, the director shall fix the compensation of all public defender system employees except for the deputy directors.
This section states that the director and deputy directors may participate in cases based on their own discretion and not only upon an order of the commission. Currently, the director has no authority to direct or control the legal defense of specific cases. Under this section, the director shall have the authority to become involved in cases in order to ensure that the defendant is provided effective counsel.
The provision stating that funds applied for and accepted on behalf of the public defender system shall be deposited into the state general revenue fund has been repealed.
The director shall also ensure that public defender caseloads remain within the maximum defender caseloads established by the commission. Where the number of cases exceeds the maximum caseload, the director shall contract the excess cases to private counsel when funds are available. If funds are not available, the director shall notify the court that the public defender is unavailable. Persons eligible for public defender services shall then be placed on a waiting list for services and the court shall proceed as provided in this section.
Currently, indigent persons are eligible for public defender services when detained or charged with a misdemeanor which will likely result in confinement. Under this section, such person shall only be eligible when the prosecuting attorney has requested a jail sentence for such misdemeanor.
When the public defender is unavailable to accept additional cases because maximum caseload standards have been met, the court and the public defender shall proceed in the following manner:
(1) the public defender shall continue to make indigency determinations and inform the court of the status of defendants requesting services;
(2) If, after consulting with the prosecutor, the court determines a case can be disposed of without a jail or prison sentence, the court may proceed without the provision of counsel to the defendant;
(3) If a jail or prison sentence remains possible, the court shall place the case on a waiting list for defender services;
(4) The court shall determine the order in which cases will be placed on its waiting list for services.
The commission and Supreme Court may make rules and regulations regarding these provisions in order to ensure the defendant's constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel is met.
Nothing in this section shall prevent the court from using non-public defender resources to obtain counsel for a defendant on the waiting list or from making pro bono appointments. Private counsel may seek payment of litigation expenses from the public defender system for such services, but such expenses shall not include counsel fees and shall be limited to the expenses approved in advance by the director.
The public defender shall not be available for appointment by the court in noncapital state post-conviction proceedings.
Nothing in this section shall prevent the court from utilizing non-public defender resources to obtain counsel for a movant in such proceedings or from making pro bono appointments of private counsel. The public defender shall be permitted to enter such a case at his or her discretion where the caseloads permit and a determination has been made that legitimate grounds for relief exist and a manifest injustice is likely to result if counsel is not made available.
This section requires state and local government offices to provide financial records and information about a person seeking services from the public defender system to any employee of the system, upon request and without a fee. Currently, only persons in certain positions may request such information.
Currently, a balance of not more than $150,000 shall remain in the Legal Defense and Defender Fund at the end of the appropriation period and not be transferred to the general revenue fund. Under this section, the amount is increased to an amount equal to 20% of the current annual fund appropriation.
This section requires public offices to provide public defenders with photographs, recordings, and electronic files at no cost.
SUSAN HENDERSON MOORE