Public defender for Miller County assault suspect asks court to give case to other lawyer

Public Defender Justin Carver has asked the court to appoint another lawyer in an assault suspect's case. (File).

The public defender representing a man accused of assault in Miller County has asked the court to give the case to another attorney outside of the state's public defender system.

Justin Carver, the public defender for Cole, Moniteau and Miller Counties, filed a motion to decline representation for John Joe Powell. Carver said Wednesday his office has too many cases.

Powell faces several charges in Miller County after allegedly torturing a man at a campground. The victim died about a week later.

Carver said the motion he filed in Powell's case Tuesday is one of several his office has filed in cases throughout the area in January.

In the motion, Carver noted he has no lawyers able to take this case as every lawyer in his office is already overloaded with cases. Carver told KRCG13 his office at any given time has about 700 to 900 cases split between a handful of lawyers.

"We have horrible, crazy, turnover," Carver said.

Carver said his office has lost five lawyers since January, and another is currently serving in the military. He said the current case load is split among five attorneys, including himself.

"This court should exercise its constitutional duty under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to ensure competent, effective and ethical representation of [the] defendant by considering and implementing a remedy that does not require appointment of the overburdened Public Defender by appointing a lawyer employed by the State of Missouri outside the Public Defender System to represent Defendant," Carver wrote in the court document.

"In recognition of this responsibility, the state created the Missouri Public Defender System as one conduit for fulfilling the State's responsibility. Unfortunately, the conduit that is the Public Defender System cannot accept representation in this case without violating Rules of Professional Conduct and rights of the Defendant," Carver wrote.

Carver said public defenders across the state are "caught in a catch 22" following a higher court's decision to place Columbia's public defender on probation for apparently neglecting his clients as a result of a high case load. Boone County Judge Kevin Crane appointed dozens of cases to area private attorneys this month.

Carver said Cole County has appointed private attorneys for some cases. In his motion in Powell's case, Carver suggested the court consider appointing a lawyer who works for the state in one of the state's various departments, agencies, legislative research branches. Carver said he has yet to find a judge willing to do this.

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