We commend Cole County and the State of Missouri for working to improve the state's woefully underfunded public defender system.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers earmarked $1 million to hire 15 new public defenders to eliminate some waiting lists for public defender services across the state.
That happened after Gov. Mike Parson took the leadership to boost funding for the agency in his proposed budget.
As a result, the Public Defenders Office in the Cole County Courthouse - which serves Cole, Miller and Moniteau counties, will add another three attorneys to the existing nine in the office. As we reported Tuesday, that is expected to happen in August or September.
The County Commission, meanwhile, is moving forward with a plan to house the additional public defenders.
The plan calls for the second floor of the Carnegie Building, adjacent to the Cole County Courthouse, to continue to house public defenders offices while using the basement of the building for the space needed to house the incoming public defenders. The public defender's office was first located years ago in the Carnegie Basement.
Western District Commissioner Harry Otto said the plan will allow the Cole County Public Defenders Office to stay in one building, rather than be split into two buildings.
Public defenders offices throughout Missouri have been short-staffed for years. That can create long wait times for defendants, compromising their constitutional right to a speedy trial. It also means existing public defenders have large caseloads, which means they don't have the time to adequately represent their clients.
That's not the way our justice system is supposed to work. So we support measures by the county and state to balance the scales of justice for the accused.