A Jackson County Circuit judge has disqualified an attorney from the City Council race in Kansas City because of residency issues.
Judge Ann Mesle Friday evening issued her judgment against candidate Michael Fletcher. The civil rights attorney had sought the 3rd District Council seat, but incumbent Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks in a recent lawsuit raised residency questions because Fletcher also lives in California.
With the clock ticking to Tuesday’s primary election, Fletcher’s attorney said he plans to immediately seek an emergency writ of prohibition from the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District. With the weekend and court holiday on Monday, the court would have to allow an emergency hearing in order for the case to be heard before the election.
Mesle in her judgment took issue with Fletcher claiming to be a Kansas City resident even though on multiple occasions he had advised courts that he had a home in California and had a case moved to California as a result.
“He cannot claim both states as his domicile and will be precluded from doing so,” Mesle wrote in the order.
Fletcher, who is known for capturing jury verdicts in discrimination and civil rights cases, during a daylong hearing on Friday testified that he had lived in Kansas City since 1986. Fletcher, whose Missouri license to practice law was suspended in 2006, said he moved his family to California after alleged death threats by police. But Fletcher said that he has since maintained a legal residence in Kansas City. He said he owns an apartment and a house in Kansas City and travels between Kansas City and California weekly.
Brooks, however, points to court documents that say otherwise. In her lawsuit, she cites an April 2009 letter Fletcher wrote to the clerk of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the letter, he tells the court he meant to file an appeal with the 9th Circuit “based on diversity jurisdiction arising out of Michael R. Fletcher residing in California since June of 2006.”
“The law does not allow Mr. Fletcher to have it both ways,” plaintiff’s attorney Clinton Adams Jr. said. “He cannot be a resident or (have) a domicile in California for litigation purposes and a resident of Missouri for political purposes. To allow him to do so would be to make a mockery of the Missouri Constitution and the laws of this city.”
Adams during closing arguments called on Judge Mesle to evaluate Fletcher’s credibility, which the judge emphasized throughout Friday’s hearing was an important issue in the case.
The Missouri Supreme Court suspended Fletcher’s license in 2006 after the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri suspended him from practicing before that court.
The suspension came after the federal court determined Fletcher committed professional misconduct in a series of lawsuits filed starting in 1999. The court said allegations against Fletcher numbered 307 paragraphs but the court stopped its review at number 183, finding it already had “sufficient evidence” of misconduct to take action.
Among the federal court’s findings of Fletcher’s wrongdoing:
–Misrepresenting people’s deposition testimony in a lawsuit;
–To intimidate a man, telling him that he could be held personally liable in a lawsuit;
–Calling a woman and threatening to sue her and her employer for contract interference after a friend of hers dropped Fletcher as his attorney;
–Using intimidation during several depositions;
–Threatening in a lawsuit against a hospital to make confidential patient information public unless an acceptable settlement offer was made.
“The court is firmly convinced that Mr. Fletcher has engaged in a pattern and practice of unethical conduct and he has done so to gain an unfair advantage in litigation and to profit financially,” the federal court said in its May 2004 order.
His license remains suspended in Missouri.
Defense attorney Michael Yonke, of Yonke & Pottenger in Kansas City, attempted to emphasize the credibility of the handfuls of witnesses who testified they believed Fletcher’s intent was to reside in Kansas City.
Yonke told Judge Mesle that his client is still registered to vote in Kansas City and pays income taxes in Missouri.
“Before there were lawsuits and lawyers … he has always maintained his intent to be a resident in Kansas City, Mo.,” Yonke said.
Yonke also pointed to case law that says when facts are conflicting as to the intent of residence, the person’s original residence is favored. He emphasized that no controversy exists over Fletcher’s residency prior to 2006.
Fletcher’s name will remain on the ballot since Mesle’s order of disqualification came after 5 p.m. the Friday before the election.
The case is Sanders Brooks v. Fletcher et al., 1116-CV02949.
Kelly Wiese contributed to this report.