Deputy District Defender, Missouri State Public Defender’s Office
Overseeing attorneys and staff, representing indigent individuals charged with high-level felonies, attending county meetings, collaborating on trial strategy, and making jail visits with clients are all in a day’s work for Katherine Schmidt, deputy district defender in the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office.
To cover six counties, Schmidt’s office should be staffed with 16 attorneys, but currently only nine positions are filled, so even with a robust caseload and many administrative duties she is often willing to take on difficult cases to relieve the burden on less experienced staff attorneys.
“This work keeps me on my toes,” she said.
Schmidt says her own upbringing influenced her devotion to public service.
“Neither of my parents graduated high school, so it was a long road for me just to go to college,” she said.
To be near her family, Schmidt works in the rural district where she grew up and she understands the impacts of poverty in her community.
“Poverty plays a huge role in who’s getting charged with crimes and how they’re getting charged,” she said. “Low-income people are often overlooked, and that’s what inspired me to go to law school.”
Schmidt, whose career got a late start, was a mother with three school-aged children when she decided to go to law school, aiming for a career as a public defender.
“Part of my job is helping the court see the humanity in my clients, many of whom have dealt with circumstances that are hard to imagine unless you have been there yourself,” she said.
Not all of Schmidt’s cases have a favorable outcome, but whenever she’s able to give her clients a voice, she counts that as a win.
“I’ve taken cases to trial when we knew we were going to lose going in, but my clients often thank me at the end of the day for caring enough to fight for them,” she said.
Schmidt is a certified yoga instructor and enjoys spending time outdoors in nature.
“I enjoy any kind of physical activity,” she said. “This job requires a lot of sitting, so enjoying nature and moving is a priority, and when I do have time, I make sure I get that done.”