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HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF THE
FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI

    The Office of the Federal Public Defender has had an active presence in the Eastern District of Missouri since January of 1981 when the Circuit Council for the Eighth Circuit approved a temporary amendment to the Criminal Justice Act Plan. The Defender’s Office, which had previously served the Central and Southern Districts of Illinois in the Seventh Circuit, began to provide representation in the Eastern District of Missouri. The Federal Defender’s Office of the Eastern District of Missouri achieved independent status when the Criminal Justice Act Plan for this district was again amended, effective October 1, 1994, establishing three separate offices for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southern District of Illinois and Central District of Illinois.

    In the late 1970's, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was concerned about the quality of representation being provided to indigent criminal defendants in the Southern District of Illinois. The Judges of the Southern District of Illinois agreed to the establishment of a Federal Public Defender Organization but that district did not meet the threshold requirement of 200 indigent cases a year required to justify a free standing defender organization at that time. The Central District of Illinois was persuaded to join the Southern District of Illinois in a plan providing for defense services throughout the two districts in an office that was initially staffed in East St. Louis, Illinois. That office came into existence in 1978. The Eastern District of Missouri’s 1981 amendment to its CJA plan was a result of the fact that the number of indigent appointments in the Southern and Central Districts of Illinois combined had declined and were still falling short of the threshold of the 200 indigent case requirement. The Judges of the Eastern District of Missouri agreed to open what was essentially a three district office with numbers that were well above the threshold requirement.

    The first Federal Public Defender was David E. Booth, he had one assistant. The office operated initially with the two attorneys and one secretary. In 1982, Mr. Booth resigned; his assistant remained and was the acting Federal Defender until David R. Freeman was appointed in August of 1982. The office remained physically located in East St. Louis, Illinois with the vast majority of its appointments being in the Southern District of Illinois with occasional appointments in the Eastern District of Missouri and the Central District of Illinois. The office was not frequently utilized by the Court of the Eastern District until 1984.

    The office continued to operate with two attorneys and one secretary. In mid 1984, the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri began to fully utilize the Federal Public Defender’s Office and the number of appointments increased dramatically. The staff was increased with the addition of two attorneys in mid 1984, the hiring of an investigator and an additional support staff person.

    The office physically moved to St. Louis, Missouri in the early fall of 1984, due in part, to renovations taking place in the East St. Louis Courthouse and to the fact that the majority of appointments were now coming from the Eastern District of Missouri. The office continued to add attorneys as the caseload continued to grow and the office continued to serve the Southern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of Missouri with occasional appointments in the Central District of Illinois.

    A satellite office was reestablished in East St. Louis, Illinois in the newly reopened courthouse annex in early 1991. In 1992, a second satellite office was opened in Benton, Illinois and in 1993, a third satellite office was opened in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The same month (June, 1993) that the Cape Girardeau office opened, the St. Louis headquarters office took advantage of a forced move to relocate from the Federal Customhouse and Courthouse to private space located across the street, the present location of the headquarter’s office. David Freeman continued as the federal defender, administering the main office and the branch offices, as well as the significantly increased staff.

    On October 1, 1994, the Eastern District of Missouri, Central District of Illinois and Southern District of Illinois all adopted new plans under the Criminal Justice Act, establishing independent Federal Defender Offices in each of the three districts. Mr. Freeman continued to serve as the federal defender and the districts were not independent until his retirement and the subsequent appointment of the Mr. Freeman’s three successors: Norman S. London, Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Missouri; Richard Parsons, Federal Public Defender for the Central District of Illinois and R. Thomas Day, Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Illinois. One unique feature of these new plans was that they provided for the appointment of counsel from the other districts in conflict cases. The independent nature of the offices was deemed to permit this form of representation and the conflict case representation continues to the present day.

    The Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri presently consists of a main office located in private office space immediately adjacent to the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri. The branch office is located in private office space within blocks of the Federal Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

    Norman S. London served as the defender from August, 1995 until his retirement in April, 2006. During Mr. London’s tenure, two attorneys were added to the staff in St. Louis and one additional assistant in the Cape Girardeau office. During the same time, two additional employees were added to the support staff.

    Lee T. Lawless was Acting Federal Defender until his appointment as Federal Defender in November, 2006 and has served until the present. There is a current staff of sixteen attorneys and twentyone office support staff.