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Schmitt hears AG progress report

Schmitt hears AG progress report

December 7th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

Attorney General Josh Hawley, center, briefs incoming Attorney General Eric Schmitt, left, Thursday during a meeting in the Attorney General's office in the Supreme Court Building. Schmitt will take over the role in January when Hawley heads to Washington, D.C., as a U.S. Senator for Missouri.

Photo by Sally Ince /News Tribune.

Incoming Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Thursday afternoon there's not a lot he can say yet about the cases he'll inherit when he replaces Josh Hawley in early January.

Gov. Mike Parson last month named Schmitt — currently Missouri's elected state treasurer — to replace Hawley when he goes to Washington, D.C., as Missouri's newest U.S. senator.

"This office has a really proud tradition," Schmitt told reporters and members of Hawley's leadership staff gathered in a conference room in the state Supreme Court building. "But not just the attorneys general themselves, but all the great men and women who are dedicated to public service, who go on to be judges or do great things here.

"There's a really proud tradition in this office, and I am humbled by the opportunity and very grateful for the opportunity to work with all of you, in understanding what's happening" in the office.

Schmitt said it's too early to say who will be on his new staff at the attorney general's office, or who will remain with the new treasurer after that person is named by Parson.

"We'll be interviewing some folks in this office," he said, "but we anticipate that, by and large, a lot of the great people who are working here now will be working here in January and even after that. I think it's important that, as we approach the holiday season, people understand that."

Hawley told Schmitt the office currently employs about 180 attorneys. Hawley said he'd launched a "top-to-bottom (organizational) review of the office" when he took over as attorney general in January 2017.

"It was the first time in 24 years, when I came into office, that there had been a party transition," Hawley noted. "We looked at the best practices of other states (and) of the U.S. Department of Justice."

Hawley said the goal was "just to modernize the office and make it more efficient," since "the legal field had changed a lot in 24 years," after Jay Nixon took the office in 1993 and was followed by Chris Koster 16 years later.

Hawley's restructuring included consolidating nine separate divisions into two — criminal and civil — "with multiple sections beneath them," he said.

"That allowed us to make sure that everybody was carrying a full caseload, and that there were clear lines of reporting," Hawley told Schmitt.

Some of his changes were based on conversations with his predecessors, Hawley said, including Koster, Nixon, John Ashcroft and John Danforth.

New to Hawley's operations were a "federalism unit," engaged in "many of the lawsuits in federal court that impact Missouri interests," the attorney general said, a public corruption unit "that's been very, very active" and a human trafficking unit.

Hawley said his office still is investigating some cases involving former Gov. Eric Greitens.

"Those investigations are still active and ongoing," he said. "We will offer you an update when we have one." He wouldn't say if the investigations will be finished before he joins the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3.

Hawley said he hopes lawmakers next year will pass two proposals the attorney general's office submitted this year, but didn't pass:

Additional investigative powers, including the ability to issue subpoenas, to enforce Missouri's Sunshine Law.

A "more global" look at the Sunshine Law itself, because it "hasn't been significantly updated in quite some time."

Hawley also said the Legislature should change the Legal Expense Fund to require departments that lose court judgments to pay at least part of the court-ordered damages out of their own budget.

"If they're not feeling the bite, there's not enough incentive to change that behavior," he said.

Schmitt said he's willing to look at that after he takes over the office next month.

Hawley called Schmitt "a lawyer's lawyer. He has a tremendous record of being a tough advocate for taxpayers, of fighting for those who depend on this government to protect them (and) to defend the interests of the people of Missouri.

"Eric's a litigator. There's no job in this office that he will not understand, to be able to direct. And I'm really, really excited about it."