Judge sides with Gov. Nixon in lawsuit over funding public defenders

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A judge tossed out the state public defender agency's lawsuit over Gov. Jay Nixon's budgeting authority. The lawsuit challenged the governor's decision to withhold millions of dollars in funds from the agency that defends poor people.

A Cole County judge, in a ruling made public on Friday, sided with Nixon in the lawsuit that the Missouri State Public Defender system and the state's Public Defender Commission filed in July.

The plaintiffs alleged Nixon cut their budget while no general revenue was restricted from Nixon's own budget. The system's director, Michael Barrett, called the move political.

In August, Barrett appointed Nixon, the state's former attorney general, to defend one of his agency's clients in protest of the budget cut. A judge later blocked that move.

“Today’s order once again affirms the clear authority of the governor to rein in spending and keep the budget in balance,” Nixon said in a news release. “This constitutional authority has enabled me to maintain strict fiscal discipline, protect Missouri’s spotless AAA credit rating, and keep our economy moving forward.

“As a result of our fiscal discipline, the Office of Public Defender has seen a 15 percent increase in funding and a nearly five percent increase in staff during my tenure, even while other state agencies have had to tighten their belts and full-time state employment has been reduced by nearly 5,100. It is my hope that the Office of Public Defender will now return its attention to the job it has to do, and the resources already available with which to do it.”

A reporter's message left Friday with Barrett for a comment on the ruling wasn't immediately returned.

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