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Watkins wants a different judge for contempt claim against him in Greitens case

Attorney Al Watkins speaks with reporters outside the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis following a hearing. March 26, 2018.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Attorney Al Watkins speaks with reporters outside the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis following a hearing on March 26, 2018.

A key figure in the legal saga of former Gov. Eric Greitens wants a different judge to decide whether he ran afoul of a gag order.

Al Watkins represented the ex-husband of the woman with whom Greitens had an affair. During Greitens’ invasion-of-privacy trial, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison restricted attorneys of possible witnesses from talking with the media.

The ex-husband was expected to be called as a witness in that case. But on April 23, Watkins held a lengthy press conference on the steps of a St. Louis courthouse.

Burlison scheduled a hearing for Friday for Watkins to explain why he wasn’t in contempt of the gag order. During those proceedings, Chuck Hatfield, an attorney for Watkins, requested that another judge decide the matter.

Burlison took that request under advisement.

“We think the rule is very clear that when there’s an issue of possibly showing disrespect for a court, that the judge can not sit in judgment over the same case,” Hatfield said after court adjourned. “We don’t believe Mr. Watkins showed disrespect for the court, but I think a fair reading of the show-cause order is that’s what’s alleged.”

Hatfield also said that since Burlison, and not an outside attorney, is questioning whether Watkins is in contempt, it makes sense for another judge to hear the issue.

He also said Watkins was not in contempt of the gag order.

“For the gag order, the issue is whether he was in contempt — which means, 'Did he intentionally, and with disregard for the authority of the court, violate that order?'” Hatfield said. “And we’ll tell the court about that when we get an opportunity. But we don’t think he did.”

Known for his combative style and colorful language, Watkins and the woman’s ex-husband exposed the Greitens scandal in a January interview with KMOV. Watkins ended up being deposed in the felony invasion-of-privacy case after it was revealed that a newspaper publisher delivered more than $100,000 in cash to defray the ex-husband’s legal bills.

Watkins’ contempt hearing is slated for Oct. 19.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.