Opinion writer

Michael Barrett is your new hero. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Fed up with what he says is the governor’s failure to properly fund his overwhelmed office, the state’s lead public defender ordered Gov. Jay Nixon this week to represent a poor person in Cole County this month.

Michael Barrett said he was using a provision of state law that allows him in extraordinary circumstances to delegate legal representation “to any member of the state bar of Missouri.” He’s starting with the state’s highest-profile lawyer: Nixon.

Barrett says the governor has repeatedly declined to give the public defender system the money it requests and is withholding promised funding increases this year.

“Providing counsel to poor people who face incarceration is the obligation of the state. It’s not fair to go after private attorneys who are trying to pay the rent when they had nothing to do with contributing to this,” Barrett said in an interview Wednesday.


Barrett and his staff say they need a $23.1 million budget increase to adequately represent the state’s indigent clients. Nixon recommended $1 million.

Here’s the letter. Keep in mind that this doesn’t even account for all the people caught up in the state’s crippling municipal court system. Those courts generally handle only misdemeanors. And people facing misdemeanor charges usually aren’t entitled to legal representation.

Sure, Barrett’s letter is a stunt. Nixon will almost certainly get out of his appointment. But as we saw recently in New Orleans, the stunt is bound to generate a lot of attention. Maybe a little public shaming will prod Nixon and the state legislature to take the Sixth Amendment more seriously. In fact, a little more shame at the national level might help, too.