After a Missouri public defender claimed the Greene County Jail is illegally housing inmates, a state lawmaker wants to change the law in question.
The lawsuit points to state law saying criminal defendants and people accused of violating probation — which is technically a civil matter — are not allowed to be housed together.
The public defender behind the suit said Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott, as well as four other sheriffs across the state, are violating this state law.
The suit — called a petition in mandamus — was filed Jan. 5. Four days later, a state representative from north of Kansas City filed a bill that would change the state law.
The law currently says, “Persons confined under civil process or for civil causes shall be kept separate from criminals.”
The bill proposed by Ken Wilson, R-Smithville, would add the following sentence to the bill: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the housing of persons on probation or parole with offenders or persons being held on criminal charges.”
Wilson did not respond to a request for comment.
Amy Evans, the plaintiff in the Greene County suit, is currently being held in the Greene County Jail for allegedly violating her probation in mid-2017.
According to court records, Evans, 45, pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance — a felony — in 2016 and was placed on probation.
She has been in jail since her arrest in early December, court records show.
Damon Phillips, an attorney for Arnott, called the suit a “frivolous legal argument” and one which public defenders are not authorized to make.
A prosecutor also took a swipe at the lawsuit.
A motion filed by Todd Myers, the county’s chief assistant prosecuting attorney, argues that a public defender should be in court defending Evans.
Rod Hackathorn, of the public defender’s office in Springfield, sent a letter to the judge in December saying his office didn’t have adequate staffing to represent Evans for her alleged probation violation.
Myers argued that if a public defender can file a lawsuit on Evans’s behalf, a public defender has the time to represent Evans in her probation violation.
Myers believes Hackathorn should demonstrate why he should not be held in contempt of court.
Myers also asked that the public defender behind the civil suit — Matthew Mueller — be assigned to Evans’s probation violation case.
By Giacomo Bologna | Springfield News Leader