Miller County judge denies relief for overloaded public defender

A judge in the 26th circuit denied the public defender's claim in Miller County that has a caseload issue causing him to provide ineffective counsel. (File).

Nearly six months after Miller County's public defender described his caseload issues to circuit judges and prosecuting attorneys, a judge has issued an order on the matter.

Court records show circuit judge Kenneth Hayden denied any relief for the area's District Defender, Justin Carver, who told the court in December he had an open caseload of 182 cases at that time. That amound could exceed the National Advisory Commission's standard of 150 felony cases or 400 misdemeanor cases per year.

Carver's office, Area 19, represents indigent suspects in Miller, Cole and Moniteau counties.

The caseload conference held December 22, 2017 involved more than 240 cases in Miller and Moniteau Counties, including the case of double murder suspect, Gary Sweet. Carver told judges he self-reported to the Office of Chief Disciplinary counsel because of his high caseload. He also attempted to withdraw from some cases. Carver also noted his office's high turnover, which is a problem plaguing the state's underfunded public defender system.

"The Court is aware that this level of representation is maintained under challenging circumstances," Hayden wrote in the order dated June 8, 2018. "However, this Court is not convinced based upon the evidence before it together with the observations of the Court as to the level of representation provided by the District Defender to his clients, that the [defender] is unable to provide effective assistance of counsel to those he represents due to caseload issues."

Hayden noted his more than 20 years of experience in private practice criminal defense work as a way of understanding the time and effort involved to provide effective counsel.

Hayden suggested Carver reevaluate whether caseloads in Miller and Moniteau County can be handled with just one attorney, while Cole County's caseload has five attorneys assigned to it.

"In making this ruling, the Court expresses its continued willingness to maintain an open dialog with the District Defender with regard to caseload issues and docketing procedures," Hayden wrote. Hayden offered the court look into the use of video equipment for meetings between incarcerated suspects and public defenders to alleviate lawyers from traveling to those counties.

Hayden also said if the public lawyers are placing indigent clients on a waitlist, he said it must stop and lawyers must enter in on those cases in Miller and Moniteau Counties.

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