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Kansas public defenders are having a 'significant' problem managing caseloads

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Those seeking a public defender in Kansas may wait "days, sometimes a week or so," before The Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services is able to find an attorney available to take the case, according executive director, Heather Cessna.

Short on staff, experience and pay, the head of the Kansas State Board of Indigents' Defense Services is asking state lawmakers to help alleviate the strain on the public defenders system.

Kansas needs more criminal defense attorneys and more funding to keep up with all the cases coming into the public defenders' office.

Heather Cessna, executive director of the Kansas State Board of Indigents' Defense Services, says her office has approximately 145 public defenders — nearly 60% of whom have less than five years of experience.

Despite an increase in pay during fiscal year 2022, Cessna says high caseload and low pay have contributed to the short staff.

"It's a pretty significant issue," says Cessna. "We are very much struggling to find enough qualified and available criminal defense counsel across the state to handle the volume of cases that are being charged by local prosecutors in Kansas."

Cessna joined KCUR's Up To Date to share how the overwhelmed system affects clients and how they're asking lawmakers to address the issue.

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