Senator Predicted Public Defender Lawsuit Years Ago
Missouri Senator Bob Dixon stood on the Senate floor several years ago and issued an ominous warning: the state of Missouri was going to get sued if it didn’t fix its broken public defender system.
His concern was that the state was not fully honoring the US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment—that’s the one that says every American charged with a crime has the right to an attorney, even if they cannot afford one.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union and several other parties have sued the state in a class action lawsuit, alleging that Missouri’s public defender system is too severely underfunded to do its job. You can view the legal document, filed in Cole County, by clicking here.
Dixon, who represents part of Greene County, is chair of the Missouri Senate’s Judiciary Committee. He said news of the lawsuit didn’t surprise him.
“You know, one of the things I’ve said at home a lot is the two political parties in this era seem to have their favorite Constitutional Amendments,” Dixon said.
“You hear a lot from my party about the Second Amendment. You hear a lot from the Minority Party about the First Amendment. But all of the amendments are part of the Constitution. So I think all of us should speak up for all of the amendments, including the Sixth Amendment,” Dixon said.
Thursday evening, Dixon received the Defender of the Sixth Amendment Award from the Missouri State Public Defender for his work on this topic.
KSMU has reported in depth on the many aspects of Missouri’s public defender funding crisis.
When asked whether the ACLU lawsuit will create more of a sense of urgency or affect how he legislates, Dixon was hesitant to comment on the court case.
“But depending on how a court would rule in that, there could be any number of ramifications. I don’t want to see the legislature ever in a scenario when we’re ordered to do something financially. Because that is the role of the legislature—to appropriate the funds,” he said.
The proper procedure, he said, is for the governor to propose a budget, then for the legislature to authorize the expenditure of those public funds.
“So when you get the courts involved in appropriating, you have a real mess. And I don’t think they want to be in that situation. But frankly we have placed ourselves in a situation where we are now the subjects of litigation and I’d like to see us address it without seeing any judicial mandates,” Dixon said.
Governor Eric Greitens is recommending in next year’s budget about 25 million dollars less than what the Missouri State Public Defender says it needs to address the funding issue.