Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Public Defenders are entitled to official immunity and a judgment for legal malpractice was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court.
The opinion is linked here.
The case involved state charges which the defendant (plaintiff here) believed were not subject to jurisdiction, as the alleged burglary was of a post office.
The state brought the charges after federal authorities declined to proceed.
The sued attorneys did not press the jurisdictional issue and were found liable for malpractice.
As public defenders, Perry and Flottman are entitled to official immunity because they are public employee whose official statutory duties concern the performance of discretionary acts. The legislature created a public defender system to provide legal services to indigent defendants entitled under the federal and state constitutions to the assistance of counsel in criminal prosecutions. State statutes entitle public defenders to all benefits of the state employees’ retirement system, and this Court’s rules of professional conduct characterize public defenders as public employees and governmental attorneys. One need not be a public official engaged in the essence of governing to be entitled to official immunity; such immunity extends to protect public employees from liability for alleged acts of negligence committed during the course of performing discretionary acts requiring exercise of a degree of reason and judgment. There is no dispute Perry and Flottman were acting pursuant to their constitutionally and statutorily mandated duties in representing Laughlin, and he made no allegation they acted with malice toward him during their representation. They also had no clear and unequivocal ministerial duty to assert the jurisdictional challenge; choosing which defenses to raise and which arguments to pursue on appeal on behalf of indigent clients constitutes a discretionary act entitled to official immunity.