Judge Mayer found that the public defender had failed to follow the statutory procedures and ordered the public defender system to represent the three defendants.

The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that public defenders cannot unilaterally refuse cases due to excessive workloads without the approval of a judge and an opportunity for appeal by the prosecution, according to a press release from Stoddard County Prosecutor Russ Oliver. 

On September 28, 2017, the Public Defender for the 35th Judicial Circuit, along with several other public defenders across the State of Missouri, informed the courts that they would no longer be accepting any new criminal defendants as clients, citing their refusal due to already excessive caseloads. Later on October 4, 2017, the public defended refused to represent three indigent defendants in front of the Honorable Robert N. Mayer, according to the release. 

The refusal was met with a motion to require the public defender to represent the indigent defendants filed by Oliver who cited statutes providing that a public defender may not refuse representation without the approval of a local circuit judge. 

The statutes also provide a mechanism in which that approval can be obtained. A public defender can file a motion with the judge stating his or her caseload concerns. A hearing is then held for the judge to determine if the public defender’s concerns are valid. Each party then has the right to appeal to the appellate courts, according to the release. 

"Contrary to the requirements of those statutes, the public defender simply unilaterally decided that they would no longer be accepting cases," according to Oliver. 

Judge Mayer found that the public defender had failed to follow the statutory procedures and ordered the public defender system to represent the three defendants. 

On October 11, 2017, the director of the public defender system, Michael Barrett, and the district defender then filed a Petition for Writ of Prohibition in the Southern District Court of Appeals in case no SD35176 seeking to bar Judge Mayer from ordering them to represent the 3 defendants. The Southern District denied that petition for writ on October 13, 2017.

The same Petition for Writ of Prohibition was filed on October 16, 2017 in the Supreme Court of Missouri in case no SC96736. The Supreme Court ordered the Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney, Russ Oliver, to file his response (on behalf of Judge Mayer) by noon the following day, October 17, 2017. The prosecutor filed his response that following morning. The Supreme Court ruled that same day issuing the following ruling:

“ORDER ISSUED: PETITION OF WRIT OF PROHIBITION DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE TO THE DISTRICT DEFENDER INVOKING THE STATUTORY PROCESS SET FORTH IN SECTIONS 600.062 AND 600.063 IN AN INDIVIDUAL CASE IN WHICH THE PUBLIC DEFENDER HAS BEEN APPOINTED," according to the release. 

“This Supreme Court ruling is a significant and vital victory to ensure that our criminal justice system does not shut down, not only in Stoddard County, but across the entire state of Missouri. The Supreme Court has made very clear through this ruling that the relief the Public Defenders are seeking must be done through the correct statutory procedures, which the Missouri legislature passed after extensive input from the public defenders and for their benefit in 2013," Oliver said.

"This means that the entire court system, the judges, the prosecutors and the public defenders will be involved in the discussion, rather than one person making the unilateral decision to shut down the courts.”