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Senate confirms state’s new federal prosecutors

Kansas City’s next U.S. attorney could take her oath of office this week, while St. Louis’ incoming U.S. attorney has to wrap up his judge duties in mid-Missouri before making the move.

The U.S. Senate found time before adjourning on Christmas Eve to confirm Missouri’s next two top federal prosecutors.

Richard Callahan

Richard Callahan

By unanimous vote, Richard Callahan was confirmed for the Eastern District, based in St. Louis, and Beth Phillips was confirmed for the Western District, based in Kansas City. Each will serve a four-year term.

Phillips, currently an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City, said President Barack Obama still must sign her commission documents.

Once he signs the paperwork and she receives it, which she expected to take a few business days, she said Western District Chief Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. would administer her oath of office.

She said the ceremony likely won’t take place until early this week because of the holidays.

Phillips previously worked with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office and with Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Gorny in Leawood, Kan.

She joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in August 2008 as a trial attorney for the Computer Crimes and Child Exploitation Unit.

She now serves as project coordinator for Project Safe Childhood in Kansas City, a nationwide program that seeks to educate the community about Internet predators and bring more perpetrators to trial.

Phillips was named The Daily Record’s Criminal Justice Legal Leader earlier this year. She succeeds former U.S. Attorney John Woods, who resigned in February.

Asked about her goals for the office, she declined to make any general statements about the post until the president formally approves her commission.

“I’m waiting for the last step,” she said.

Reached by phone Monday, Callahan, a circuit judge in Cole County, said he was unsure when he would take the oath of office in St. Louis, as he still is hearing cases in Jefferson City. He declined to make any additional comments.

Callahan, who was previously Cole County’s prosecutor, succeeds Catherine Hanaway, who resigned in April.

A Democrat, Callahan, 62, was first elected as a Cole County Circuit judge in 2002.

As a circuit judge in the state’s capital city, Callahan has heard and ruled on a number of major cases, from legal challenges to ballot measures to the 2004 lawsuit that challenged Missouri’s method of funding public schools.

Callahan this year threw out a man’s murder conviction, writing a sharply worded opinion that criticized the prosecutor in that case, Kenny Hulshof, who went on to become a Republican congressman and then ran for governor last year but lost to Democrat Jay Nixon.

The judge found prosecutors and investigators didn’t disclose some evidence that would have helped the defense and misrepresented some evidence at trial.

Missouri Lawyers Weekly named Callahan its 2009 Lawyer of the Year.