JEFFERSON CITY - Nearly 4,000 children and teens are going without the proper legal representation according to Cat Kelly, director of the Missouri Public Defender System.
Kelly testified in front of the House Appropriations Committee to ask for increased funding to hire more lawyers.
Kelly raised questions of the constitutionality of the juveniles who are not receiving adequate representation.
"There are so many areas where there are people going either unrepresented or underrepresented cause there's a lawyer standing besides them," said Kelly. "But, a lawyer who hasn't had the time to actually do what they need to do on the case, which doesn't require the constitutional requirement either."
She said there are not enough lawyers to handle the amount of cases that require a public defender.
Three solutions for the case overload were presented to the committee. They include contracting cases out to private lawyers, adding staff, increasing funding or a combination of all three.
Kelly said she would like to see as many as 51 lawyers added to the system by the next fiscal year.
Increased funding would go toward hiring private lawyers to handle cases that fall outside a public defender's main jurisdiction. Kelly said public defenders drove almost two million miles last year to represent cases outside their jurisdiction.
Kelly would like to see the committee contract cases out to private lawyers if they make any changes.
The committee did not raise many questions or objections to Kelly, but one representative addressed her stance on teens and children being underrepresented.
"When I first heard about this problem with the juveniles and some of them not even given the opportunity to have counsel, [it] disturbed me a great deal," said Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles. "And so I think this is something I can't impress on the committee enough. We need to address this."
Kelly said Gov. Jay Nixon withheld $700,000 in 2013 and $1.13 million in 2014 from Missouri's Public Defender System.