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story.lead_photo.caption Eric Greitens

The state has paid private attorneys more than $30,000 since 2019 to defend former Gov. Eric Greitens from an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee of the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Mark Ausmus filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging he was fired from a senior counsel position during the early months of Greitens' administration and replaced with a younger attorney.

A former Democratic staffer in the Missouri House in the 1990s, Ausmus had been working at the department since 2011 and was made senior counsel in 2016. He had never been subject to any discipline and never had a poor annual evaluation, said his attorney, Roger Brown.

He was given no reason for his dismissal, Brown said, except it was on orders from the governor's office.

"They wanted to find places to put their cronies," Brown said of the governor's office, "and they looked around and found an old guy and just shipped him off, told him he was out of a job and replaced him with younger people."

Ausmus was 61 at the time of his dismissal, which Brown said made him one of, if not the oldest, attorney working in the department.

"They have never been able to articulate a legitimate reason," he said. "They called him in and said 'the governor's office called, and you're discharged.' And so he was."

He's asking the court to award him nearly $1 million in back pay and benefits, including his pension, along with punitive damages.

Greitens, who resigned in June 2018 to avoid impeachment and settle a felony charge, was originally defended by the attorney general's office.

The attorney general's office remains part of the case, but in April 2019 agreed to allow Catherine Hanaway of the Husch Blackwell law firm to serve as Greitens' attorney.

Hanaway, a former speaker of the Missouri House and U.S. attorney, previously served as attorney for Greitens' campaign committee and dark-money nonprofit.

The state is paying $140 an hour fee for her services in the discrimination lawsuit, which according to the attorney general's office has totaled nearly $31,000 so far.

Since April 2019, Greitens' gubernatorial campaign has paid Husch Blackwell roughly $88,000, though it is unclear how much, if any, of that total is related to the discrimination lawsuit.

Greitens is currently running in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Hanaway did not respond to a request for comment.

Brown said it is appropriate for the state to pick up the tab for Greitens' legal bills, since the alleged discrimination took place as part of his official duties as governor.

Greitens' attorneys have tried unsuccessfully several times to get the judge to dismiss him from the lawsuit, Brown said.

"They argue that he didn't specifically do anything," Brown said. "But his office did it, and he is his office. He's the one who gives directions. When you are told 'the governor's office says you're fired,' that means the governor says you're fired."

Ironically, Greitens signed legislation in 2017 making it harder to prove a discrimination claim in court and prohibiting people from suing some individuals, such as a supervisor, for discrimination.

Ausmus' claims predate that law going into effect, Brown said, allowing him to sue under the previous standard and include Greitens as a named defendant.

Since his dismissal, Ausmus has suffered "great embarrassment and humiliation" in front of his peers, friends and family, the lawsuit contends, and his career has been irreparably harmed.

"Each time the plaintiff applies for a job," the lawsuit says, "he must indicate that he was fired and then end up informing a prospective employer that he does not know the reason and can give no explanation for such discharge."

Brown said the case has been repeatedly delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's currently set for trial in December 2022.

"We would have liked to have tried this case two years ago," Brown said. "It's been taken off the docket twice because of COVID."

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

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