The Oath on all lawyers’ licenses in Missouri says “I will practice law to the best of my knowledge and ability and with consideration for the defenseless and oppressed.” We are failing that obligation.
The Missouri Public Defender system ranks 49th in the U.S. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the State of Missouri alleging it has failed to provide necessary resources and adequately represent defendants for decades.
Last year the legislature provided an additional $ 4.5 million in funding for the public defenders, but former Governor Jay Nixon cut that funding by $3.5 million. The relief sought by plaintiffs includes a declaration that Missouri’s indigent defendants are currently having their Constitutional rights violated by deficient representation.
Amid this litigation, President Trump has proposed a budget for 2018 which eliminates funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which provides civil legal aid to indigent individuals across the United States. The legal services corporation is one of 19 different agencies which the Trump administration has proposed for total elimination of funding. In 2016, Legal Services received $385 million from the federal government. This would cripple all Legal services entities across the entire U.S.
The American Bar Association has expressed outrage over the proposed funding elimination. Legal Services president Jim Sandman said, “We represent a fundamental American value—equal justice, That’s a value as old as the republic itself. Congress understands that.” Currently $30 or 12 cents of every dollar paid in annual Missouri Lawyer enrollment fees goes to support th e legal services corporation and indigent clients in need.
Governor Greitens has restored $2.5 million to the public defender system, but directors of the system fear it will not be enough.