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Prosecutor faces discipline for texts to women on his cases

H. Morley Swingle

H. Morley Swingle, then with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, speaks with a witness in 2016. (File photo)

A well-known Missouri prosecutor is facing disciplinary proceedings after he exchanged inappropriate texts with women connected to two of his cases.

According to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, H. Morley Swingle resigned as an assistant Boone County prosecutor in May 2021 after the texts — one series with a defendant in one of his cases and another with the victim of a crime he was prosecuting — came to light. In an information filed July 8 that recently became public, OCDC alleged that Swingle broke several rules of professional conduct.

In an answer filed July 13, Swingle admitted to most of the allegations and said he “agrees that a decision should be issued finding that Respondent committed professional misconduct as alleged in the Information and that Respondent should be disciplined in accordance with Rule 5.”

Swingle didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking additional comment. It was unclear if he has counsel.

Swingle served as the elected prosecuting attorney of Cape Girardeau County from 1987 until 2012, when he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri as an assistant federal prosecutor. He went on to work in private practice in Colorado before returning to Missouri. In addition to law-review articles and teaching seminars, Swingle is the author of several books, ranging from mysteries to a memoir about his years as a prosecutor.

According to OCDC’s information, Swingle joined the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office in February 2020. OCDC alleges that he was the prosecutor in a felony murder case against three people who took part in a drug deal that ended in a fatal shooting. From January 2021 until his resignation, Swingle exchanged a series of texts with a young woman who had driven the vehicle to the scene and who eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for her cooperation.

The information alleges Swingle and the woman exchanged photos and that he did her a number of favors, including getting her phone released from evidence and providing references to potential employers or landlords. In one such text, he noted that he had an extra bedroom at his house “but that WOULD be inappropriate.”

“As good an advocate as I am, I couldn’t explain that one away!” he allegedly wrote. OCDC doesn’t allege any kind of a physical relationship.

OCDC said the texts weren’t disclosed to the defense in the related cases. The woman eventually talked about the exchanges with another lawyer, who contacted the prosecutor’s office. Following Swingle’s resignation, a special prosecutor was appointed in the cases.

Swingle is separately alleged to have used the dating app Tinder to connect with a woman who was also the girlfriend of a man murdered in Columbia. Swingle was prosecuting the alleged killer. According to OCDC, he told the woman she was “like the one person in the world I couldn’t date right now because there would be a conflict of interest.”

Nonetheless, they exchanged numbers, and the woman later reached out to him. According to the information, Swingle replied that it was “like the beginning of a Hallmark channel love story.”

“What a plot twist! If you and I were to fall in love, I would need to have a different prosecutor take over the case,” he allegedly wrote.

Swingle is alleged to have given more than $500 worth of gifts to the woman and invited her to his home. When she instead said he should meet her and a friend at the mall, Swingle allegedly replied that it “started feeling like some sort of set up and I don’t want any part of anything like that.” He added that he didn’t believe he’d done anything that would require him to remove himself from the murder case.

“I don’t want you to leave me alone. I like you very much. But if you and I start a romantic relationship now[,] I would have to go into my boss’s office first thing this week and tell him and have him appoint a different prosecutor” in the case against her boyfriend’s alleged murderer, he allegedly wrote.

None of those exchanges were provided to the defense. A special prosecutor was appointed in that case as well.

OCDC said Swingle’s actions created a conflict of interest, made him a potential witness in the criminal cases, violated his duties as a prosecutor and were prejudicial to the administration of justice. The case now proceeds to a disciplinary hearing committee, which will make recommendations as to the appropriate response. OCDC’s filings do not specify what kind of discipline it is seeking.

Swingle has been licensed since 1980. According to OCDC, he received an informal admonishment in 2011 for entering into a personal relationship with the victim in a criminal case while it was ongoing.

The case is In re: Swingle, DHP-22-019. 

See also: One attorney suspended, another disbarred