Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon received quite a surprise recently: he was ordered to court via an obscure state law to represent poor criminal defendants after slashing the budget for public defenders in the “Show Me State.”
According to reports:
“Missouri’s public-defender system is in crisis. Like many other systems throughout the U.S., it is underfunded, understaffed, and underappreciated. The state spends less than half of the national average in per-capita public-defense spending, placing it in 49th place out of 50, according to the National Legal Aid and Defense Association.
Ensuring that Missouri carries out the Constitution’s command that all criminal defendants receive legal representation is the job of Michael Barrett, the director of the state’s public-defender system. To deal with an extraordinary problem, Barrett hit upon an extraordinary solution: use an obscure Missouri legal provision to order Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a lawyer and former state attorney general, to provide legal aid to the state’s poorest defendants.
Relying on private attorneys to fill gaps in the public-defender system is hardly novel. But conscripting the governor of a state into providing legal-aid service appears to be unprecedented. In a terse, damning letter to Nixon dated August 2, Barrett laid out his reasoning behind the unusual assignment.”