Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Prosecutors drop charge against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens after "unprecedented" ruling by Judge Rex Burlison, who has ties to attorneys on the defense team

Eric Greitens
Prosecutors yesterday dropped an invasion-of-privacy charge against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens after an "unprecedented" ruling by a judge with close ties to the governor's defense lawyers.

Judge Rex Burlison ruled the defense could call St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner as a witness. The prosecution responded by dropping the charge, which stemmed from Greitens' admitted extramarital affair with his hair stylist, but members of the prosecution team said they intend to refile the charge -- with a special prosecutor or another member of Gardner's team handling the case.

From a report at stltoday.com:

A spokeswoman for Gardner said the case would be refiled. Gardner left the courtroom just before 5 p.m. She did not answer questions.

Circuit Judge Rex Burlison's "unprecedented" order "places the Circuit Attorney in the impossible position of being a witness, subject to cross-examination within the offer of proof by her own subordinates," Gardner spokeswoman Susan Ryan said in a statement.

But St. Louis University law Professor John Ammann said Gardner did not have to dismiss the charge. Because she could not be a prosecutor and witness in the same case, she could have simply let other prosecutors take over, he said.

The move by Judge Burlison caught many legal analysts off guard, and Greitens hardly is out of the legal woods. From a report at cbsnews.com:

Nationally, it's "super, super rare" for a judge to allow a prosecutor to be called as a witness, said Hadar Aviram, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law.

Some legal experts said prosecutors would have about a month to decide whether to file charges, because that's about how much time was left in the three-year statute of limitations when the original charge was filed. . . .

Greitens also remains charged with a second felony in St. Louis for allegedly disclosing a donor list from a St. Louis-based veterans' charity he founded for use in his political campaign. No trial date has been set for that case.

Judge Burlison's credibility might now be questioned in the court of public opinion. In late March, stltoday.com reported that Burlison had eased concerns about his impartiality by denying a defense motion for a bench trial. Those concerns likely will be raised anew after yesterday's unexpected ruling, forcing Greitens' prosecutor to testify. From the March report:

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison went far [recently] in dispelling any public doubts about his impartiality as he presides over Republican Gov. Eric Greitens’ felony invasion of privacy case. Doubts have surfaced because of Burlison’s links to the law firm defending Greitens. Burlison dashed our concerns Monday by refusing a request by Greitens’ lawyers to allow a bench trial, which would have let Burlison judge the governor’s guilt or innocence without a jury trial. This high-profile case is being monitored across the state, if not the country, for its impact on the Republican Party in the November elections. . . .

Nevertheless, Burlison has troubling links with the influential Dowd Bennett law firm representing Greitens in the case, which stems from an extramarital affair in 2015. Burlison was a longtime aide to former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who appointed him to the bench. Nixon also appointed Burlison’s daughter to be a judge in St. Charles County, and Burlison’s wife to the judicial panel that recommends judges for the city of St. Louis.

Nixon now is a partner at Dowd Bennett. Three partners in the firm — Edward Dowd Jr., Jim Martin and James Bennett — are on Greitens’ six-member defense team. Burlison’s challenge moving forward will be to maintain strict impartiality regardless of the various political forces tugging at him.

Based on his ruling yesterday, Burlison appears to be playing favorites with the Dowd Bennett law firm -- and that benefits a governor who has scandals coming out of every orifice.

That does not speak well for justice in Missouri -- or anywhere else.

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