JEFFERSON CITY – A federal court has ruled the Missouri attorney general cannot intervene in a class action against the state that calls for proper legal counsel for criminal defendants.
Judge Nanette K. Laughrey of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri’s Central Division denied Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s motion to intervene July 12.
Randall Lee Dalton and others first filed the class-action against the state of Missouri, Gov. Mike Parsons and the director and commissioners of the Missouri State Public Defenders (MSPD). The plaintiffs allege the state is not fulfilling “its constitutional obligation to provide indigent defendants with meaningful representation,” since the MSPD is underfunded and is already overworked, the ruling states.
Judge Nanette K. Laughrey
The plaintiffs requested a declaratory and injunctive relief to provide indigent criminal defendants and juvenile respondents with sufficient legal counsel. After a lot of legal back-and-forth, the attorney general filed a motion to stay the case amid a pending resolution for its motion to intervene in May.
Laughrey first determined the motion to intervene is untimely, stating in the order that the attorney general has known about the suit since April 2017 when he removed the case to federal court on the state defendants' behalf and moved for dismissal of the state defendants the same month.
“If the attorney general wanted the state to have an active role in opposing the plaintiffs’ claims and any settlement between the plaintiffs and the MSPD defendants, he should not have sought immediate dismissal of the state as a defendant,” the judge wrote.
The ruling states the attorney general also had the opportunity to intervene when the case was ordered to mediation back in March and at other times. The judge also wrote that the parties would be prejudiced by the late intervention.
Still, even if it was timely, Laughrey said the attorney general doesn’t have the right to step into the case at this stage.
"... the attorney general has failed to demonstrate a 'cognizable interest in the subject matter of the litigation' that 'might be impaired by the disposition of the case,'" the order states.
Laughrey also noted that the nature in which the attorney general seeks to intervene "is not clear."
The judge did grant the attorney general permission to file an amicus brief on if the proposed consent judgment aligns with state law and if it will impact public safety and welfare negatively.