Missouri judge rules against special-election lawsuit

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 | 6:44 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon prevailed Tuesday against a lawsuit that sought to compel him to more quickly set special elections for vacant legislative seats.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green provided no reasoning in his one-sentence written decision that denied a request from 10 Missouri residents for a court order for Nixon to immediately set special-election dates. An attorney for the plaintiffs said they planned to appeal to the Western District state Court of Appeals in attempt to force Nixon to set April special elections for four vacant legislative seats.

After the lawsuit was filed in early January, Nixon set August special elections for three vacant House seats. But he still has not called a special election to fill a seat vacated when he appointed state Sen. Ryan McKenna as labor department director.

The lawsuit asserted Nixon was shirking his duties by not promptly scheduling special elections.

The Missouri Constitution gives the governor the power to set special elections for vacant legislative seats. A state law says the governor "shall, without delay, issue a writ of election" to fill vacant legislative seats.

One of the House seats has been empty since June, when then-Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, resigned following his victory in a special election for Congress. The other two House seats and the Senate seat have been vacant since December.

As a result of the vacancies, House Republicans now hold 108-52 majority over Democrats — one vote shy of the two-thirds requirement needed to override gubernatorial vetoes. Senate Republicans hold a 24-9 majority — one more vote than needed for veto overrides.

The lawsuit suggested that an April special election would be preferable because the winners could take office in time to vote on bills before the May 16 end of the annual legislative session. The August special elections likely would result in the new lawmakers being available for the September veto session.

David Roland, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said an appeals court still could order an April election but would have to do so by next Tuesday to comply with pre-election deadlines.

Roland expressed frustration that the case had not been decided more quickly by Green or with any greater elaboration.

"If the judge was going to rule against us in one sentence, he should have done it weeks ago to give us time for a well-briefed appeal," he said.

A Nixon spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the court ruling.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster's office, which represented Nixon, declined to comment.

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