Church v. Missouri

Decision Date24 July 2017
Docket NumberNo. 17–cv–04057–NKL,17–cv–04057–NKL
Parties Shondel CHURCH, et al., Plaintiffs, v. State of MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Missouri

Matthew R. Shahabian, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Aaron Scherzer, Jason D. Williamson, Robert L. Sills, New York, NY, Anthony E. Rothert, Jessie Steffan, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation, Amy Elizabeth Breihan, Mae C. Quinn, St. Louis, MO, Easha Anand, Evan Rose, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, San Francisco, CA, Gillian R. Wilcox, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation, Kansas City, MO, for Plaintiffs.

Laura E. Elsbury, Michael D. Quinlan, Dean John Sauer, Missouri Attorney General's Office, Jefferson City, MO, Jacqueline Shipma, Missouri State Public Defender, Columbia, MO, for Defendants.


NANETTE K. LAUGHREY, United States District Judge

Pending before the Court are Defendants Eric Greitens and State of Missouri's Motions to Dismiss, [Docs. 18, 20]. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions are granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background1

This lawsuit challenges the adequacy of the Missouri State Public Defender (MSPD), which provides legal representation to all indigent citizens accused or convicted of crimes in Missouri state court. Plaintiffs filed this putative class action alleging Missouri "has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide indigent defendants with meaningful representation." Plaintiffs filed for injunctive and declaratory relief in Missouri state court. Defendants removed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1441, and 1446.

A. Missouri Indigent Defense Overview

The State of Missouri relies almost exclusively on local MSPD offices to provide indigent defense services in all 114 counties and St. Louis City. MSPD comprises three distinct parts: the Trial Division, subdivided into 33 district offices across the State; the Appellate/Post–Conviction Division, subdivided into six offices; and the Capital Division, subdivided into three offices. MSPD employs approximately 376 attorneys—including roughly 313 in the Trial Division—and approximately 200 administrative staff, support staff, paralegals, and investigators. The MSPD represents indigent defendants in over 100,000 cases each year, counting new cases and cases carried over from previous years.

1. Funding

MSPD is funded almost exclusively from Missouri's general revenue. The level of funding provided by the State is less than one half of one percent of the State's general revenue. In fiscal year 2016, the MSPD Trial Division handled more than 75,000 cases; with its funding, the MSPD spent an average of $356 per case.

Since the establishment of MSPD in its current form in 1989, there have been at least ten independent evaluations of Missouri's public defense system, including assessments conducted by The Spangenberg Group in 1993 and 2005; the Missouri Senate Interim Committee in 2006; The Spangenberg Group and the Center for Law, Justice, and Society at George Mason University in 2009; the U.S. Department of Justice—Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2010; the American Bar Association in 2010; the National Juvenile Defender Center in 2013; the American Bar Association and RubinBrown in 2014; the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015; and the Sixth Amendment Center in 2016.2

The Sixth Amendment Center's study determined that Missouri's per capita spending on indigent defense is approximately one-third of the average of the 35 states surveyed. According to the study, in fiscal year 2015 Missouri spent $6.20 per resident for indigent defense services, compared to an average of $18.41 per capita among the other States in the study. Missouri currently ranks 49th among the 50 states in funding for indigent defense.

In August 2015, Defendant Michael Barrett—Director of MSPD—wrote to then–Governor Jay Nixon requesting additional funds. Barrett noted that, "[f]or years, the Missouri State Public Defender (MSPD) has warned that the rights of poor Missourians are being violated throughout the state because MSPD's resources are too few and the caseloads too high." Barrett pointed to recent reports by the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) and the ABA making clear that existing funding was "woefully inadequate to guarantee the constitutional rights of indigent[ ]" defendants in Missouri. As such, Barrett requested a $10 million supplemental budget to provide some of the resources that MSPD urgently needed to "meet[ ] its obligations to its citizens under the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions." His request was denied.

In 2015, the Missouri legislature approved an additional $3.4 million in funding to MSPD. Then–Governor Nixon vetoed the funding. The legislature overrode that veto, but Governor Nixon nevertheless withheld the funds from MSPD. The legislature approved $4.5 million in additional funding for caseload relief in fiscal year 2017, but Governor Nixon directed that the MSPD receive only $1 million.

Plaintiffs estimate it would take an additional $20 million or more per year for MSPD to meet the constitutional floor of providing minimally adequate representation to indigent defendants.

2. Workloads

In 1993, the Missouri State Public Defender Commission sought the assistance of The Spangenberg Group (TSG) in studying the internal operations of the Missouri public defense system, including issues related to budgeting, staffing, and allocation of resources. TSG's report concluded that MSPD "lack[ed] the necessary resources to provide competent representation," and that "[t]he legal staff needs to be increased as soon as possible." [Doc. 1–3, pp. 86–106 of 150].

In 2005, the Missouri Bar Association formed a Public Defender Task Force to work in conjunction with the MSPD Commission to address those deficiencies. The task force commission TSG to conduct another study into the MSPD. The report warned that Missouri's public defender system was "on the verge of collapse" and that, despite the best efforts of MSPD's attorneys, many public defenders were routinely failing to comply with MSPD's Public Defender Guidelines for Representation and the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct. [Doc. 1–3, pp. 111–138 of 150].

In January 2007, an interim committee of the Missouri Senate released its report on MSPD. The committee found that the caseloads of public defenders were "too large," and recommended that "caseloads ... be reduced, support staff be increased, the number of public defenders be increased ... [and] the base salary of public defenders be[ ] increased." [Docs. 1–3, pp. 140–150 of 150; 1–4, pp. 1–4 of 290].

In 2009, the Missouri Bar Association retained TSG for another report. TSG concluded that public defender workloads had worsened since its 2005 report and, as a result of those workloads, public defenders were failing to (1) conduct prompt interviews of their clients following arrest, (2) spend sufficient time interviewing and counseling their clients, (3) advocate effectively for pretrial release, (4) conduct thorough investigations of their cases, (5) pursue formal and informal discovery, (6) file appropriate and essential pleadings and motions, (7) conduct necessary legal research, and (8) prepare adequately for pretrial hearings, trial, and sentencing. [Doc. 1–4, pp. 6–73 of 290].

In June 2014, the ABA and accounting firm RubinBrown released a study of Missouri's public defender system, which included an assessment of public defender workloads for both adult and juvenile matters. [Doc. 1–7]. The researchers calculated the minimum number of hours (excluding court time, travel, and administrative tasks) that an attorney would need to devote to different types of cases in order to provide constitutionally adequate representation. The study determined that a constitutionally adequate attorney would need to spend a minimum of 106.6 hours on a non-capital murder/homicide case; at least 47.6 hours on an A/B felony; at least 25.0 hours on a C/D felony; at least 63.8 hours on a felony sex offense; at least 11.7 hours on a misdemeanor; at least 9.8 hours on a probation violation; and at least 19.5 hours on a juvenile case. [Doc. 1–4, pp. 75–121 of 290].

In 2015, MSPD attorneys were able to spend, on average, 84.5 hours on each non-capital murder/homicide case; 8.7 hours on each A/B felony; 4.4 hours on each C/D felony; 25.6 hours on each felony sex offense; 2.3 hours on each misdemeanor; 1.4 hours on each probation violation; and 4.6 hours on each juvenile case. Id. Under the ABA's analysis, "attorneys in the St. Louis County office [were] at 265% workload capacity," and throughout the state, for example: "239% capacity for the Springfield office, 254% for Jefferson City, and 254% for Farmington." [Doc. 1–4, pp. 124–126 of 290]. MSPD Trial Division attorneys were able to devote the minimum required hours to only 2.4% of all A/B felony cases (or 97 out of 4,127 total A/B felony cases) and 1.4% of C/D felony cases (or 311 out of 21,491 total C/D felony cases). [Doc. 1–4, pp. 189–199 of 290].

In February 2017, Defendant Barrett testified before the state legislature that MSPD would need 333 more lawyers to provide minimally adequate representation to indigent defendants.

In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the validity of a rule promulgated by the Missouri Public Defender Commission that "permit[ted] a district defender office to decline additional appointments when it ha[d] been certified as being on limited availability after exceeding its caseload capacity for at least three consecutive calendar months." State ex rel. Missouri Public Defender Commission v. Waters , 370 S.W.3d 592, 597 (Mo. 2012). After that decision, however, public defenders who attempted to turn away cases faced resistance from prosecutors, judges, and legislators. In some circuits, cases that were turned away were assigned to non–MSPD attorneys with no criminal defense experience who were not compensated for their time.


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