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Dalton v. Barrett

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

February 26, 2019

Randall Lee DALTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
Michael BARRETT, et al., Defendants.[1]



         Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for class certification, Doc. 52. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         This lawsuit challenges the adequacy of the Missouri State Public Defender (MSPD), which provides legal representation to all indigent citizens accused or convicted of crimes in Missouri state court. Named Plaintiffs filed this putative class action alleging that Missouri “has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide indigent defendants with meaningful representation.” Doc. 1-2, p. 2. The crux of Plaintiffs' allegations is that the MSPD is underfunded and overworked, and Plaintiffs seek only injunctive and declaratory relief aimed at correcting the issues.

         A. Missouri Indigent Defense Overview

         The State of Missouri relies almost exclusively on local MSPD offices to provide indigent defense services in all 114 counties and St. Louis City. MSPD comprises three distinct parts: the Trial Division, subdivided into 33 district offices across the State; the Appellate/Post-Conviction Division, subdivided into six offices; and the Capital Division, subdivided into three offices. MSPD employs approximately 376 attorneys-including roughly 313 in the Trial Division-and approximately 200 administrative staff, support staff, paralegals, and investigators. The MSPD represents indigent defendants in over 100, 000 cases each year, counting new cases and cases carried over from previous years.

         1. Funding

         MSPD is funded almost exclusively from Missouri's general revenue. The level of funding provided by the State is less than one half of one percent of the State's general revenue. In fiscal year 2016, the MSPD Trial Division handled more than 75, 000 cases; with its funding, the MSPD spent an average of $356 per case. Since the establishment of MSPD in its current form in 1989, there have been at least ten independent evaluations of Missouri's public defense system.[2] One such study, conducted by the Sixth Amendment Center, determined that Missouri's per capita spending on indigent defense is approximately one-third of the average of the 35 states surveyed. According to the study, in fiscal year 2015 Missouri spent $6.20 per resident for indigent defense services, compared to an average of $18.41 per capita among the other States in the study. Missouri currently ranks 49th among the 50 states in funding for indigent defense.

         2. Workloads

         In 1993, the MSPD Commission sought the assistance of The Spangenberg Group (TSG) in studying the internal operations of the Missouri public defense system, including issues related to budgeting, staffing, and allocation of resources. TSG's report concluded that MSPD “lack[ed] the necessary resources to provide competent representation, ” and that “[t]he legal staff needs to be increased as soon as possible.” Doc. 1-3, pp. 86-106.

         In 2005, the Missouri Bar Association formed a Public Defender Task Force to work in conjunction with the MSPD Commission to address those deficiencies. The task force commissioned TSG to conduct another study into the MSPD. The report warned that, despite the best efforts of MSPD's attorneys, many public defenders were routinely failing to comply with MSPD's Public Defender Guidelines for Representation and the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct. Doc. 1-3, pp. 111-38.

         In January 2007, an interim committee of the Missouri Senate released its report on MSPD. The committee found that the caseloads of public defenders were “too large, ” and recommended that “caseloads . . . be reduced, support staff be increased, the number of public defenders be increased . . . [and] the base salary of public defenders be[ ] increased.” Docs. 1-3, pp. 140-50; 1-4, pp. 1-4.

         In 2009, the Missouri Bar Association retained TSG for another report. TSG concluded that public defender workloads had worsened since its 2005 report and, as a result of those workloads, public defenders were failing to (1) conduct prompt interviews of their clients following arrest, (2) spend sufficient time interviewing and counseling their clients, (3) advocate effectively for pretrial release, (4) conduct thorough investigations of their cases, (5) pursue formal and informal discovery, (6) file appropriate and essential pleadings and motions, (7) conduct necessary legal research, and (8) prepare adequately for pretrial hearings, trial, and sentencing. Doc. 1-4, pp. 6-73.

         In June 2014, the ABA and accounting firm RubinBrown released a study of Missouri's public defender system, which included an assessment of public defender workloads for both adult and juvenile matters. Doc. 1-7. The researchers calculated the minimum number of hours (excluding court time, travel, and administrative tasks) that an attorney would need to devote to different types of cases in order to provide constitutionally adequate representation. The study determined that a constitutionally adequate attorney would need to spend a minimum of 106.6 hours on a non-capital murder/homicide case; at least 47.6 hours on an A/B felony; at least 25.0 hours on a C/D felony; at least 63.8 hours on a felony sex offense; at least 11.7 hours on a misdemeanor; at least 9.8 hours on a probation violation; and at least 19.5 hours on a juvenile case. Doc. 1-4, pp. 75-121.

         In 2015, MSPD attorneys were able to spend, on average, 84.5 hours on each non-capital murder/homicide case; 8.7 hours on each A/B felony; 4.4 hours on each C/D felony; 25.6 hours on each felony sex offense; 2.3 hours on each misdemeanor; 1.4 hours on each probation violation; and 4.6 hours on each juvenile case. Id. Under the ABA's analysis, “attorneys in the St. Louis County office [were] at 265% workload capacity, ” and throughout the state, for example: “239% capacity for the Springfield office, 254% for Jefferson City, and 254% for Farmington.” Doc. 1-4, pp. 124-126. MSPD Trial Division attorneys were able to devote the minimum required hours to only 2.4% of all A/B felony cases (or 97 out of 4, 127 total A/B felony cases) and 1.4% of C/D felony cases (or 311 out of 21, 491 total C/D felony cases). Doc. 1-4, pp. 189-99.

         In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the validity of a rule promulgated by the MSPD Commission that “permit[ted] a district defender office to decline additional appointments when it ha[d] been certified as being on limited availability after exceeding its caseload capacity for at least three consecutive calendar months.” State ex rel. Missouri Public Defender Commission v. Waters, 370 S.W.3d 592, 597 (Mo. 2012). After that decision, however, public defenders who attempted to turn away cases faced resistance from prosecutors, judges, and legislators. In some circuits, cases that were turned away were assigned to non-MSPD attorneys with no criminal defense experience, and who were not compensated for their time.

         The then-head of MSPD was told that if local offices continued to turn away cases, the legislature would pass a bill to privatize the entire system. The legislature passed Mo. Rev. Stat. § 600.062, which prevents the director of MSPD or the MSPD Commission from “limit[ing] the availability of a district office or any division director, district defender, deputy district defender, or assistant public defender to accept cases based on a determination that the office has exceeded a caseload standard.” Under Section 600.062, MSPD “may not refuse to provide representation” unless it receives “prior approval from a court of competent jurisdiction.” Since the legislature's enactment of 600.602, no MSPD office has refused cases in any consistent or systematic way.

         B. ...

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