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Supreme Court decries judges’ appearance in campaign mailer

Staff Report//June 24, 2022//

Supreme Court decries judges’ appearance in campaign mailer

Staff Report//June 24, 2022//

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Judge W. Brent Powell, Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Judge Mary R. Russell pose in front of several flags
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, third from left, poses with Missouri Supreme Court Judge W. Brent Powell, Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson and Judge Mary R. Russell on Aug. 11, 2021. The court says the image was improperly used in a campaign mailer supporting Schmitt’s run for U.S. Senate. (Photo by Missouri Attorney General’s Office via Facebook)

The Missouri Supreme Court says the use of a photograph of three of the court’s judges in a mailer for Eric Schmitt’s U.S. Senate campaign is a potential breach of judicial ethics.

In a June 17 statement, the court said it had learned of the mailer late the previous day and had asked Schmitt, who is currently Missouri’s attorney general, to remove the image from his office’s social media.

“The judges are disappointed that this photograph was used, without their knowledge or consent, for such a blatant political purpose,” the statement says. “They are reporting the incident as required by their judicial code of conduct and legal ethics.”

Schmitt’s campaign said the mailer was from an independent group and wasn’t authorized by the attorney general or his Senate campaign.

The Supreme Court didn’t name the judges appearing in the photo. Versions of the image circulating online depict Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson and Judges W. Brent Powell and Mary R. Russell posing with Schmitt last August during the state’s bicentennial celebration.

The court said the photo was taken by a member of the attorney general’s staff during a public event, which the judges attended in their official capacities “to mark a moment of the branches of state government working together.”

“Neither the Court nor its judges had any knowledge that the photograph would be distributed or used in a political context,” the court said. “Furthermore, none of the judges did — or ever would — consent to their names, titles or likenesses being used in any political context. Missouri citizens should know that no Supreme Court judge ever would or could endorse a political candidate and this photograph should not be taken as such an endorsement despite the implication created by the mailer.”

All three judges were selected under the Nonpartisan Court Plan. The Missouri Constitution holds that “no judge of any court in this state . . . shall directly or indirectly make any contribution to or hold any office in a political party or organization, or take part in any political campaign.”

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