Taking advantage of a law that allows him to assign any case to any member of the state bar, Missouri’s chief public defender, Michael Barrett, appointed Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (a fiscally conservative Democrat finishing his second term) as the defense attorney of a poor client this week, citing the governor’s refusal to provide his office with the resources it needs.
“As of yet, I have not utilized this provision because it is my sincere belief that 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,” reads the letter Barrett sent Nixon dated Tuesday. “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 the problem, but is in a unique position to address it.”
Last month, the Missouri State Public Defender—allegedly the second worst-funded public defender’s office in the country—sued the governor after he withheld $3.5 million in caseload relief funding while reportedly leaving other executive agencies largely untouched.
“This action comes even after the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice found that poor black people are being deprived of their rights in Missouri due in large part to the lack of public defenders,” wrote Barrett. “As Director of the Public Defender System, I can only hire attorneys when I have the funding to do so.”
“Therefore,” Barrett concluded, “I hereby appoint you, Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Bar No. 29603, to enter your appearance as counsel of record in the attached case. Very truly yours, Michael Barrett.”