Missouri Madness

The St. Louis public defender's office - will, for the first time in at least 20 years, refuse to represent certain people in court starting Tuesday, state officials said last week.

Public defenders also say,that under recently revised state laws, guilty pleas to two of certain misdemeanors can lead to a felony charge and serious prison time for the third offense, along the lines of state three-strikes laws. That could mean defendants who plead guilty to minor crimes to stay out of jail are unknowingly increasing their chance of greater future penalties.

"Our representation on that docket was unethical, unprofessional and unconstitutional, and innocent and vulnerable people were being hurt," said St. Louis District Defender Eric Affholter. "And that's why we made our decision to participate differently on that docket."

Ok, so the PD's have taken a courageous and principled stand. How, you might wonder did the judges react?

In legal paperwork filed late Friday, the public defender's office said one assistant public defender had been told by sheriff's deputies they had been ordered to arrest her and her colleagues if they didn't show up to interview clients at 9 a.m. Tuesday. But sheriff's spokesman Mike Guzy said Friday afternoon that he wasn't aware of any order to arrest public defenders.

The judges reportedly are striking back in other ways, including in ways public defenders say will punish clients. According to affidavits signed by Affholter and Assistant District Defender Laura O'Sullivan and filed Friday, Circuit Judge Michael Mullen called O'Sullivan and told her that he was changing policies in his courtroom in response to the public defender's move set for Tuesday. Mullen said he would no longer allow public defenders to postpone trials, would go with prosecutors' recommended sentences over public defenders' recommendations and would no longer reschedule hearings to avoid conflicts with the public defenders' schedules.

Let's think that one through: So judges are explicitly saying--actually saying out loud that because PD's won't do meet and greet pleas, the judges will hurt the clients--give them longer sentences and force PD's to try cases even when they aren't ready.

And you wonder about the coercive nature of the system...

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