The move is part of a battle over budget restrictions
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon has been appointed to represent an indigent defendant in Cole County by the Missouri State Public Defender.
Michael Barrett, director of the public defender’s office, appointed Nixon because he blames him for the system’s lagging funding over Nixon’s time in office, including a veto seven years ago and budget restrictions this year.
“It strikes me that I should begin with the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it,” he wrote.
Barrett has targeted Nixon after the governor announced budget restrictions last month that included planned increases for the public defender’s budget. Barrett said the lack of funding increases for the department since Nixon took office have Missouri ranked 49th out of 50 states in funding an indigent defense system.
Last month, Barrett filed a lawsuit challenging Nixon’s restrictions.
“Make no mistake about it, this is not fiscal discipline. This is politics,” he said at the time.
Nixon has said the budget restrictions are necessary due to lower than projected growth. The legislature gained the ability to review the restrictions starting with the 2016 session.
The Missouri State Public Defender office says they’re already at 200 percent above their caseload and that the inability to hire more help means more indigent defenders will receive less than adequate representation.
Barrett also makes a fiscal argument, saying the cost of paying more attorneys is less than the cost of putting more people behind bars. The office points out that while the public defender budget has remained stagnant, the budget for the Department of Corrections has grown by $63 million.
“When you deprive the marginalized and the disadvantaged of their basic right to counsel after arrest and then willingly enlarge prisons by tens of millions each year, you create the unmistakable impression that poor Missourians don’t have a fair shot in the criminal justice system,” Barrett said last month.
His move to appoint Nixon as representation for a defendant was met with much approval on Twitter:
This is awesome. Nixon would be smart to pour his heart and soul into it. This could be an opportunity for him. https://t.co/MO09lqFfWy
— Jeremy LaFaver (@jeremylafaver) August 4, 2016