Public complaints against Missouri judges
Missouri Lawyers Weekly is maintaining an online list of judges who are or were on the receiving end of complaints either filed with the Missouri Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline of Judges or sent to the Missouri Supreme Court. The list is limited because most complaints end either in dismissal or informal discipline and the file is then closed to the public. Files also are sealed if a judge steps down. If you know of a judge who has faced complaints filed with the commission, please let us know by contacting reporter Heather Cole at email@example.com.
Former St. Louis Municipal Judge Margaret Walsh
Year reported: 2012
Alan Mandel, a lawyer for Walsh, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in February that Walsh was quitting to take care of her mother and also confirmed that Walsh was being investigated by the judicial discipline commission for three incidents, including allegations of using inappropriate or abusive language. Mandel said Walsh denies the allegations. The resignation would end the commission’s jurisdiction. Mandel, who blamed the complaints on a long-running feud between the city counselor’s office and municipal judges over rules, said that in the first incident, Walsh ordered a deputy city marshal to handcuff an assistant city counselor because “she interrupted a court proceeding and just wouldn’t stop.” Another commission complaint claims Walsh, who was appointed in 2003 by Mayor Francis Slay, used abusive language toward a lawyer or lawyers. Walsh categorically denies she used the language, Mandel said. The final complaint accuses Walsh of using her official position to make threats or promises to the city personnel office after her son was rejected for a municipal job. Mandel said Walsh was merely inquiring about her son’s application, which was not “in and of itself” improper.
Adair County Judge Russell Steele
Year reported: 2012
Russell Steele is the latest judge on the receiving end of a public complaint. Five state representatives introduced a resolution to impeach the Adair, Knox and Lewis counties judge last month. Among 19 allegations, the resolution says Steele was romantically involved with his assistant; gave an appointment to a former law partner’s firm; allowed a juvenile court officer to improperly campaign against Heartland Christian Academy Community Church; and threatened a lawyer who was a potential witness in a grand jury investigation with a bar complaint. Articles of Impeachment (PDF)
Steele responded with a press release saying the same “bogus” allegations were raised by political opponents during Steele’s last election for the bench in 2006. Not only did voters reject the allegations, but so did the judicial discipline commission and an Adair County “after a very thorough investigation by both,” Steele said in the release (View PDF of Steele’s response).
St. Louis Associate Judge Barbara Peebles
Year reported: 2011
Allegation • Clerks handled at least 350 cases, including deciding that as many as 18 arrest warrants should be issued, while Peebles was gone in October, according to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Peebles took a vacation in China and left almost immediately on her return for judicial training. St. Louis Circuit Court Presiding Judge Steven Ohmer said he had told the chairman of the judicial discipline commission, St. Louis Circuit Judge David Dowd, about the situation and would follow up with a formal letter. Peebles did not immediately return a phone call from Missouri Lawyers Media, but she told the Post-Dispatch she couldn’t comment, noting that some of the cases still were pending.
St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason
Year reported: 2011
Allegations and resolution • St. Louis resident Brenda Smith claimed in an April letter to the then-Missouri Supreme Court chief justice that Mason slept during the criminal trial of her son. The status of the complaint is unknown, but Mason said a similar complaint against him from about four years ago was dismissed after transcripts showed he was alert.
Wentzville Municipal Judge Michael Carter
Year reported: 2010
Allegations and resolution • Wentzville Mayor Paul Lambi and city prosecutor Doug Smith claimed Carter declined to recuse himself from drunken driving cases after Carter was charged with a DWI. The complaint was dismissed after Carter lost re-election, Lambi said. Carter was acquitted of the DWI.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker
Year reported: 2007
Allegations and resolution • Then-state Sen. Joan Bray filed a complaint against Dierker over his penning of a book that attacked “femifascists” and “illiberal liberals.” The complaint was dismissed, Bray said.
Harrison County Associate Circuit Judge Thomas Alley
Year reported: 2005
Allegations and resolution • Alley improperly interfered in two criminal cases and acted angrily or rudely to several people, according to a 2005 commission report that Alley signed off on. The Missouri Supreme Court formally reprimanded him.
Kansas City Municipal Judge Deborah Neal
Year reported: 2004
Allegations and resolution • Neal told the commission she had a gambling problem and had taken loans from lawyers. She resigned before being sentenced in 2005 to 28 months in prison. She also surrendered her law license.
Potosi Municipal Judge Ronald Hill (Hill is no longer the municipal judge.)
Year reported: 2000
Allegations and resolution • Hill, who was involved in a political fight with Potosi’s mayor, wrote an open letter to a newspaper criticizing the mayor. He also ordered the mayor’s daughter arrested and held without bail following a citation, though the arrest was not requested by prosecutors, according to a Missouri Supreme Court order. Hill argued that he did not write the letter in his official capacity, and that it was covered by free speech protections. He also said he did not know the subject of his arrest warrant was the mayor’s daughter. The Supreme Court suspended Hill without pay for the remaining months of his two-year term.
Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lewis
(Retired in 2000)
Years reported: 1999, 2000
Allegations and resolution • Four complaints, whose files totaled 142 pages, were opened against Lewis. The allegations are not available. The complaints were “reviewed by the Commission on RRD and were closed without negative action taken,” according to a 2011 court docket item in a case where a defense attorney sought to view the discipline files.
Greene County Circuit Court Judge Don Burrell Jr.
(Now chief judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District)
Year reported: 1999
Allegations and resolution • The judicial discipline commission said Burrell crossed the line with television and radio advertisements when he campaigned successfully as an attorney against a sitting judge. Burrell said he didn’t think the advertisements crossed the line, or he wouldn’t have run them, but the campaign was not the highlight of his career. “I probably showed a little immaturity,” he said. The Supreme Court ruled that the commission had no authority to prosecute Burrell because he was not a judge at the time of the alleged misconduct.
Johnson County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Young
(Young served one six-year term and left office at the end of 2000.)
Year reported: 1999
Allegations and resolution • In a recommendation for a formal reprimand, the commission said Young said inappropriate things to witnesses and attorneys, including cutting off the arguments of a six-months pregnant attorney and saying she “didn’t want any baby born in [her] chambers.” The Missouri Supreme Court reprimanded Young for the statements, also saying the judge’s court scheduling inconvenienced people and finding her guilty of two counts of misconduct for “neglect of duties.”