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Judge halts legal effort to oust St. Louis County prosecutor McCulloch from office

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch delivers a keynote address at a Saint Louis University law school  symposium on policing after Ferguson on February 20, 2015.
Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 9:00 am Tuesday with a copy of the order.

A St. Louis County judge has short-circuited an effort to oust prosecutor Bob McCulloch from office.

Judge Joseph Walsh on Thursday dismissed what’s known as a quo warranto action filed by four North County activists. The group was asking Walsh to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the way McCulloch handled the Darren Wilson grand jury. That prosecutor could have officially challenged McCulloch’s right to hold office if misconduct was discovered.

In a 10-page opinion accompanying the order, Walsh wrote that the activists had failed to prove that McCulloch "willfully or fraudulently violated or neglected his official duty, or knowingly or willfully failed or refused to perform any official act or duty to execute or enforce the criminal laws of the state" -- the grounds required for a quo warranto action.

"Confronted with the reality that the grand jury did not reach the decision they desired, however, Affiants [the activists] have set upon a course to have the Prosecutor removed from office by critiquing the manner and method in which the case was presented to the grand jury by two Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys," Walsh said.

An attorney for the activists, Jerryl Christmas, said he was not surprised by Walsh's ruling.

"I don't think he understood the issue," Christmas said. "He was always one step ahead, asking if quo warranto was needed. We just wanted him to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate." 

Christmas said he will appeal the ruling, and expects to be successful.

"[Walsh] is just so pro-McCulloch, he couldn’t even look at it in a non-biased fashion," Christmas said.

A spokesman for McCulloch did not immediately return a request for comment.

Quo warranto actions

Quo warranto, or literally "without authority," cases are authorized in Missouri by Section 106. They follow three basic steps:

  1. Members of the public file affidavits with the court outlining alleged misconduct that shows an elected official willfully refused to perform his or her duties.
  2. The prosecutor in the county investigates the allegations. If the prosecutor is the target -- as McCulloch is in this case -- a special prosecutor may be appointed. That language appears to give judges some leeway, though attorneys for the activists argued their documents proved that threshold had been reached.
  3. If the prosecutor determines the elected official did not perform his or her duties, a challenge to that official's right to hold office is issued. Both sides would then present evidence to a judge, who would make a ruling on whether the official can hold office.

Christmas has 10 days to officially appeal Walsh's ruling.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.