Thirteenth Judicial Circuit judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors met Friday to hammer out the procedure for appointing private attorneys to help reduce the caseloads of public defenders.
Presiding Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler issued a printed protocol for other judges to use when cases are assigned and private attorneys appointed to serve without compensation to represent indigent persons accused of crimes.
Attending Friday's teleconference call in the Callaway County Courthouse in Fulton were Callaway County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Wilson and Public Defender Justin Carver along with a half-dozen Fulton private attorneys. The call linked a similar conference at the Boone County Courthouse in Columbia.
Oxenhandler was responding to a July 31 Missouri Supreme Court opinion holding a Christian County judge should not have appointed a public defender to represent a defendant after the local public defender had informed the judge that it had exceeded its maximum caseload and had attempted to decline the case.
Oxenhandler said it will now be necessary to appoint private attorneys to serve without hourly compensation to relieve an excessive caseload of public defenders in Callaway and Boone counties. He said all private licensed attorneys are required to serve if appointed without compensation as part of their professional oath and canons of ethics. Attorneys are also officers of the court.
Oxenhandler said he intends to place all licensed attorneys residing in the two counties into one pool and appoint private attorneys by going down the list in order or at random.
Oxenhandler said he plans to make no exceptions at the start but he would welcome suggestions from county Bar Associations to help determine if some of the elderly or ill attorneys may be physically or mentally unable to serve as appointed counsel and should be removed from the list.