Impeachment process scrutinized

Twenty years ago this year, Secretary of State Judi Moriarty was accused of allowing her son to file as a candidate for state representative, even though he didn’t make the trip to Jefferson City to file in person as state law required.

Eventually, she was convicted in a Cole County Circuit Court trial, then impeached by the Missouri House and, ultimately, convicted by the seven-member Missouri Supreme Court.

“I think the Supreme Court did a superb job in the Moriarty case,” state Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, told the News Tribune Monday night. “That doesn’t mean that impeachment ought to be in the Supreme Court. …

“Impeachment is a tool of the legislative branch.”

And he wants lawmakers to send a constitutional amendment to the November ballot, to see if voters statewide agree with him.

Emery told the Senate’s Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee that Missouri’s 1945 Constitution moved the state away from the traditional state and federal policies that the Senate conducts impeachment trials.

“Prior to the 1945 Constitution, we were just like the federal government,” Emery said of Missouri’s process.

The change was made because State Treasurer Larry Brunk — a former state senator — was acquitted by the Senate in 1931 of impeachment charges of mishandling state money.

Emery has been in the Legislature since 2003 — and has proposed the constitutional change for most of the past decade.

Most documents he’s reviewed discredit trying impeachments in the Supreme Court, he told the committee.

Additionally, he said, eight of the 10 impeachment cases Missouri has had since becoming a state in 1821 have involved judges.

Historically, Emery said, impeachment has been “the way the legislature keeps a check on the judicial branch.”

And, he said, requiring a two-thirds vote of the 34-member Senate is a better way to prevent a mistaken conviction than needing a simple majority of the seven-member state Supreme Court.

Ron Calzone, a director of the group Missouri First, endorsed Emery’s proposed amendment and acknowledged “the sky hasn’t fallen” since the 1945 Constitution changed the process — but said “the case could be made that Missouri is actually in violation of the (federal) constitutional requirement to be a republic, since we lack a legislative check on the judiciary.”

However, Missouri Bar Vice President Erik Bergmanis of Camdenton testified: “Comparing the federal system to our system today — the reasons for impeachment are quite different.

“The federal system only allows impeachment for treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But Missouri impeachments can be lodged for a raft of “loosely defined offenses that can be subjectively interpreted,” Bergmanis said, including “misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office and incompetency — and offenses involving moral turpitude.”

He added: “This seems to be a solution looking for a problem.

“It doesn’t fix any problem — we don’t have a problem right now.”

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