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Case could carry big fallout for prosecutor

Nixon tells high court the Cole prosecutor should be ousted if his law license is suspended.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

If Cole County Prosecutor Bill Tackett’s law license is temporarily suspended by the Missouri Supreme Court because Tackett resolved his brother’s speeding ticket, the judges should also oust Tackett from his public office because he would be unqualified to serve, the state attorney general’s office contends.

Tackett has said a license suspension — a possible penalty he is fighting at the Supreme Court — wouldn’t force him to give up his job as county prosecutor. He contends that assistant prosecutors could carry out his duties if his license is suspended, as a state judicial ethics panel has recommended to the court.

The court has set an April 6 hearing on the panel’s report.

Attorney General Jay Nixon said in a Supreme Court filing last week that because candidates for prosecutor must be licensed to practice law, a license suspension should disqualify a prosecutor from serving. “Otherwise, the moment they perform their statutory duties, they violate the law,” the attorney general said.

Tackett’s defense cites an 85-year-old decision in which the Supreme Court declined to oust a prosecutor while his law license was suspended. But the attorney general said changes in law and the legal qualifications of prosecutors support booting Tackett if his license is suspended.

Nixon wrote that if a prosecutor with a suspended license isn’t ousted, “the people would be paying for services twice — once for the prosecutor who cannot act, and once for the person who actually does the work.’’

If Missouri’s highest court doesn’t agree to decide the issue, Nixon said Tackett would be targeted by an “inevitable’’ lawsuit seeking his ouster. Neither Tackett nor his attorney returned calls Tuesday. After an investigation last year, Nixon’s office declined to file charges against Tackett or the judge in the speeding tickets matter, although a Nixon assistant and a Highway Patrol investigator recommended filing misdemeanors.

Tackett’s defense against the legal ethics charges relies largely on a Jefferson City News-Tribune reporter’s taped telephone interview with the judge who signed off on resolving speeding tickets for the prosecutor’s brother and a professional football player.

Tackett has said he met with Associate Circuit Judge Joe Holt to discuss another case in which the judge had appointed him special prosecutor, but that he never identified himself as a special prosecutor for the tickets when their discussion shifted to that subject. Tackett has acknowledged asking a court clerk to bring the speeding ticket files to Holt’s office for their private meeting on Dec. 18, 2002.

During sworn testimony at a closed disciplinary hearing, Tackett said he merely meant to relay to Holt how his brother’s lawyer hoped to resolve the tickets, thus saving his brother some legal fees by sparing the other attorney a trip to Holt’s court.

Instead, Holt made docket entries resolving the cases along the terms spelled out by the defense lawyer. He later set those orders aside when Callaway County’s prosecutor discovered and questioned the docket entries.


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