Missouri’s lead public defender says he’s so vexed by Gov. Jay Nixon (D) not providing adequate funding to his office that he’s assigned Nixon to a case this month, The St. Louis Post- Dispatch reported Thursday.
Michael Barrett told the paper that that his agency is overwhelmed and accused the governor of repeatedly denying increased funding to the public defender’s office and withholding funding that was promised this year.
Barrett said he is using a state law that allows for any licensed member of the state bar to be called upon to serve as a public defender in extraordinary circumstances.
“Providing counsel to poor people who face incarceration is the obligation of the state. It’s not fair to go after private attorneys who are trying to pay the rent when they had nothing to do with contributing to this,” Barrett told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “However, given the extraordinary circumstances that compel me to entertain any and all avenues for relief, 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.”
The Missouri legislature granted the public defender’s office a $4.5 million funding increase, according to the paper. Nixon had recommended a $1 million increase, while the office had asked for $23.1 million. The Missouri State Public Defender Commission filed a lawsuit last month alleging Nixon withheld $3.5 million of the $4.5 million funds increase.
Nixon’s office did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.