KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Public defenders are not immune from legal malpractice suits from their former clients, the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled. The decision overturns a Boone County judge’s dismissal of a prisoner’s lawsuit, and was the first time the court addressed whether public defenders have immunity – but it did not address the merits of the prisoner’s claim.
The prisoner, Bernard Costa, claims his attorney failed to call witnesses whom Costa wanted to testify on his behalf at a post-conviction hearing.
The appeals court has ordered the case sent back to trial court.
The appeals court considered decisions from other states such as Florida, which ruled that a public defender “is an advocate who, once appointed, owes a duty only to his client, the indigent defendant. His role does not differ from that of privately retained counsel.”