Our Opinion: In this case, argue the law, not politics

An axiom among trial lawyers is: Never ask a question if you don’t already know the answer.

The reasoning is an unexpected answer can derail your arguments and your entire case.

House Speaker Tim Jones — a Republican from Eureka and supporter of the GOP tax cut — broke that rule when he posed a question to Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.

Jones asked if enacting the tax cut could result in Missouri residents receiving retroactive tax refunds for the three previous years of tax returns.

Koster said it could.

The answer was not what Jones expected, or what he wanted to hear. Jones’ expectations were based on a memo he received from Legislative Research, which included an opinion that the tax could not be applied retroactively.

Koster’s answer supported Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s argument opposing the tax cut. Nixon has vetoed the bill, and an override attempt has been the topic of much public debate, and advertising, leading up to the veto session later this month.

Jones, staggered by the response from the state’s elected attorney, sought to politicize Koster’s opinion.

The speaker, who is a lawyer, said he was “disappointed that … Koster chosenot to show his independence on this important issue and instead sided with the liberal, tax-and-spend views of the governor and president.”

The tax cut, like many laws enacted by legislatures, work on multiple levels. One is a reflection of political philosophy; another is the language, and consequences, of the law.

Republican arguments favoring the tax cut and Democratic arguments opposing it have been advanced on both levels.

In this case, the arguments should have remained focused on the law, not politics.


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