In surprising news Thursday, Missouri's Public Defender office announced Thursday that Governor Jay Nixon would have to provide legal aid to those that can't afford it. Missouri's public defender system is the 2nd smallest in the country by budget.
All public defender assignments are made by the head of the public defender office, Michael Barrett. When departments are understaffed, a Missouri law allows Barrett to assign public defenders from the private sector, though appointing the governor seems to be quite the unusual move. Barrett's actions are likely the result of Nixon's continued cuts to the budget, which Barrett claims resulted in 270 less public defenders than necessary for his current cases. Barrett said in a statement:
"As Director of the Public Defender System, I can only hire attorneys when I have the funding to do so. Because you have restricted that funding, MSPD must hold a significant number of vacant positions open to have the necessary funds to make it though the fiscal year, a task which is exacerbated by a 12% increase in cases over the year prior. To avoid having to close one or more offices, the remaining option is to consider the use of Section 600.042.5, which gives the Director of the Public Defender System the authority to “[d]elegate the legal representation of any person to any member of the state bar of Missouri.”
-Missouri Public Defenders Office
Governor Nixon has yet to respond, but under the provisions of the current law, it appears that he has minimal legal loopholes unless he disbars himself, which is a possibility.