Orrick Pro Bono Team Helps Lead Challenge To Missouri Defender System

March.09.2017

An Orrick pro bono team collaborated with civil rights organizations this week in a class-action lawsuit against the state of Missouri challenging the constitutionality of its inadequate public defender system.

Orrick joined the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Missouri and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis in the suit, which asks a state court to force Missouri to increase the resources provided to its public defender system in order to bring it into compliance with the Sixth Amendment.

The state’s public defenders do not have the time or resources to provide adequate legal representation in the 80,000 cases they handle each year, and are unable to talk to their clients about possible witnesses, exculpatory evidence, plea negotiations or trial strategy, according to the lawsuit. Shondel Church, the lead plaintiff, sat in jail for 42 days before seeing his public defender, who informed him he had a winnable case but could not go to trial for another four to six months.

“Missourians charged with crimes must be able to rely on the justice system for a fair outcome,” said Robert Sills, the Orrick partner leading the pro bono effort. “But if they’re too poor to afford a lawyer, and have to rely on Missouri’s overworked and underfunded public defenders, they face added obstacles to justice, for no reason other than the size of their wallets.”

The case is part of Orrick’s ongoing commitment to pro bono representation around the world. The firm ranked #9 in the U.S. and internationally in The American Lawyer’s 2016 pro bono report.

In addition to Bob, the Orrick pro bono team on the case includes associates Easha Anand, Aaron Scherzer, Matthew Shahabian and Evan Rose.