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Petsch v. Jackson County Prosecuting Attorneys Office

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

June 26, 2018

RUTH PETSCH, DISTRICT DEFENDER OF AREA 16 PUBLIC DEFENDER OFFICE, and AREA 16 PUBLIC DEFENDER OFFICE, Appellants,
v.
JACKSON COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEYS OFFICE, Respondent.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY The Honorable John M. Torrence, Judge

          Before: Lisa White Hardwick, Presiding Judge, Thomas H. Newton and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judges

          Lisa White Hardwick, Judge

         Ruth Petsch, the District Defender of the Area 16 Public Defender Office, and the Area 16 Public Defender Office (collectively, "the District Defender") filed an application for review of the Presiding Judge's order denying her request for relief for caseload issues concerning two public defenders. On appeal, the District Defender contends the Presiding Judge erred by refusing to hold a hearing on the record; denying her request for relief in the form of wait lists and the appointment of private counsel; concluding that caseload issues did not render the two public defenders unable to provide effective assistance of counsel because such conclusion was against the weight of the evidence; and failing to declare that Section 600.063, RSMo 2016, [1] is subordinate to Rule 4 and is not the exclusive remedy for excessive caseloads for public defenders. Because the Presiding Judge's failure to hold the hearing on the record precludes us from conducting meaningful appellate review of his decision, we reverse and remand the case to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Factual and Procedural History

         On November 1, 2017, the District Defender filed her first motion requesting a conference, pursuant to Section 600.063, to discuss caseload issues in her office with the Presiding Judge of the Jackson County Circuit Court.[2] Section 600.063 provides:

1. Upon approval by the director or the commission, any district defender may file a motion to request a conference to discuss caseload issues involving any individual public defender or defenders, but not the entire office, with the presiding judge of any circuit court served by the district office. The motion shall state the reasons why the individual public defender or public defenders will be unable to provide effective assistance of counsel due to caseload concerns. When a motion to request a conference has been filed, the clerk of the court shall immediately provide a copy of the motion to the prosecuting or circuit attorney who serves the circuit court.
2. If the presiding judge approves the motion, a date for the conference shall be set within thirty days of the filing of the motion. The court shall provide notice of the conference date and time to the district defender and the prosecuting or circuit attorney.
3. Within thirty days of the conference, the presiding judge shall issue an order either granting or denying relief. If relief is granted, it shall be based upon a finding that the individual public defender or defenders will be unable to provide effective assistance of counsel due to caseload issues. The judge may order one or more of the following types of relief in any appropriate combination:
(1) Appoint private counsel to represent any eligible defendant pursuant to the provisions of section 600.064;
(2) Investigate the financial status of any defendant determined to be eligible for public defender representation under section 600.086 and make findings regarding the eligibility of such defendants;
(3) Determine, with the express concurrence of the prosecuting or circuit attorney, whether any cases can be disposed of without the imposition of a jail or prison sentence and allow such cases to proceed without the provision of counsel to the defendant;
(4) Modify the conditions of release ordered in any case in which the defendant is being represented by a public defender, including, but not limited to, reducing the amount of any bond required for release;
(5) Place cases on a waiting list for defender services, taking into account the seriousness of the case, the incarceration status of the defendant, and such other special circumstances as may be brought to the attention of the court by the prosecuting or circuit attorney, the district defender, or other interested parties; and
(6) Grant continuances.
4. Upon receiving the order, the prosecuting or circuit attorney and the district defender shall have ten days to file an application for review to the appropriate appellate court. Such appeal shall be ...

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