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Prosecutors seek reform of justice system

Scott Lauck//November 19, 2009//

Prosecutors seek reform of justice system

Scott Lauck//November 19, 2009//

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A group of Missouri prosecutors urged bar officials to conduct a review of the state’s entire criminal justice system – one that doesn’t focus just on public defenders.

In a press release sent Thursday, Buchanan County Prosecutor Dwight Scroggins said that if there is “any crisis” in the justice system, the solution must involve “all facets of the system.”

“It would be worse to respond to one area of concern, ignore the others and end up with a system that is worse than what we have now,” said Scroggins, the president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “There is time for the Missouri Bar and elected officials to put the ‘crisis’ into perspective and evaluate the entire system.”

A report issued last month by the Spangenberg Group found Missouri’s public defender system to be in terrible shape and called for it to get more resources. The report was the latest in a series from the group that say the public defender system is in “crisis.”

Prosecutors, however, have criticized those reports. Earlier this year, the group successfully urged Gov. Jay Nixon to veto legislation that would have allowed the system to refuse representation in some cases. Scroggins said Thursday in the release that the report “doesn’t reflect the reality that [prosecutors] see in courtrooms across the state each day.”

Keith Birkes, executive director of The Missouri Bar, said Thursday that members of the bar’s board of governors received the letter from Scroggins and planned to discuss it at their scheduled meeting today in Jefferson City. The board had already planned to discuss the October Spangenberg report.

Birkes said he didn’t expect the board to take action today. However, he said Bar President Skip Walther had previously asked the bar’s criminal law committee to organize a symposium on needed changes to the criminal justice system. He said judges, prosecutors and public defenders will all be burdened in the current economy.

“All three of the legs of the stool need to be functioning,” Birkes said.

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