Jay Nixon

Feminist Fuck Yeah: Frustrated, Underfunded Public Defender Assigns Case to Governor

On Tuesday, Michael Barrett, who oversees Missouri’s grossly underfunded public defender system, sent a blunt, brilliant, and quite public little missive to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

It reads, in part:

Seven years ago, your office vetoed Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bill No. 37, which would have provided caseload relief to an overburdened public defender system[...] You have repeatedly cut funding for an indigent defense system that continues to rank 49th in the U.S.

Th[ese] action[s] come even after the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice found that poor black children are being systematically deprived of their rights in Missouri due in large part to the lack of public defenders. Choosing in the wake of that report to further debilitate the very organization that ensures an equal system of justice only adds to the escalating sentiment that the poor and disenfranchised do not receive a fair shake in Missouri’s criminal justice system.

After pointing out that — thanks to Governor Nixon’s funding restrictions — Barrett is unable to hire new attorneys and must instead hold a number of vacant positions open, he invoked an obscure Missouri law authorizing him to delegate legal representation to any member of the Missouri state bar:

I have not utilized this provision because it is my sincere belief that it is wrong to reassign an obligation placed on the state by the 6th and 14th Amendments to private attorneys who have in no way contributed to the current crisis. However, given the extraordinary circumstances that compel me to entertain any and all avenues for relief, it strikes me that I should begin with the one attorney in the state who not only created this problem, but is in a unique position to address it.

I hereby appoint you.

Header image via.

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

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