Public Interest News Bulletin: August 13, 2010

Much, Much More Missouri: the battle regarding Missouri’s strained indigent defense system continues in counties and courtrooms throughout the state.  Last week the PSLawNet blog provided a summary of news coverage.  In the past week:

  • The  St. Joseph News-Press covered some prosecutors’ criticisms of what they see as cynical attempt by public defenders to exaggerate the scale of the current situation to secure more funding – “just nonsense” is how one county prosecutor referred to the idea of a systemic crisis.  The Missouri Bar Association president suggested, though, that there is “no doubt” that a crisis is looming. 
  • KTVI, the FOX affiliate in St. Louis, featured a piece about the statewide sparring between defenders and prosecutors and noted that defenders in six Missouri counties are refusing to take new cases (and St. Louis County could soon join them).
  • On August 10th, a Christian County judge reaffirmed an earlier decision he had made appointing a public defender to represent an indigent defendant in a burglary case, in spite of the public defender’s earlier notification that it could not accept any more cases.  The judge noted that he was “not ruling on whether the public defender system is overworked or not but whether he could allow a defendant who qualifies for a public defender to go without.” (Columbia Daily Tribune – 8/12/10).  This decision was derided by the Missouri State Public Defender’s office. (KRCG  Website – 8.11.10).  Additional coverage of the decision is available from KSPR. 

And in other news:

  • 8.9.10 – National Law Journal [Opinion Piece authored by Esther Lardent of the Pro Bono Institute] – the recent news coverage of the immigration debate has also shed light on flaws in the current operation of the immigration system.  “Fortunately, we are seeing law firms undertaking immigration pro bono work in record numbers.”  These contributions are necessary because the system is laden down under the weight of swollen dockets, and at the same time resources to preserve and defend immigrants’ rights have become more scarce, with too few advocates to represent immigrants.  “Not only are there too few advocates; our immigration system is broken.  A recent report done on a pro bono basis by Arnold & Porter for the American Bar Association, Reforming the Immigration System: Proposals to Promote Independence, Fairness, Efficiency, and Professionalism in the Adjudication of Removal Cases (excutive summary here), presents 60 comprehensive recommendations for reform to the system.”  But until policy-level reform arrives, pro bono advocates must continue working to preserve immigrants’ rights and promote systemic change.  Link to piece.

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