Lincoln County judge suspended over threats made to public defender’s office

By Sam Knef | Feb 4, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY — Lincoln County Judge Christina Kunza Mennemeyer has been suspended by the Missouri Supreme Court without pay for six months.

According to a suspension order, Mennemeyer allegedly made threats to public defenders and deliberately postponed appointing counsel to indigent defendants so they could not move to disqualify her.

"It is clear that respondent intentionally delayed the appointment of public defenders to subvert the rights of indigent defendants," Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge wrote in the order. "She did this, ostensibly, because of a disagreement over whether the public defender’s office could enter an appearance for an indigent defendant in probation violation cases."

A dispute between Mennemeyer and the public defender's office began in 2013 over who had authority to provide legal services to indigent defendants. According to court documents, the public defender’s office believed it had discretionary authority, while Mennemeyer believed a court order was necessary for those legal services.

The court's discipline order shows an email that Mennemeyer wrote to the public defender's office during the dispute:

"Effective immediately, I will be filing bar complaints on any attorney who purports to represent a client without proper authority," Mennemeyer wrote. "This means when they file an entry in a case they have no authority to enter on, I believe they are in violation of the rules of ethics. The ethics commission can then sort it out. The solution is simple. Don’t enter or purport to represent a client on a case you have not been ordered into by a Judge if it is a probation case. Follow the procedure and wait to be appointed."

Mennemeyer was later faced with a charge from the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of engaging in “a practice of postponing the appointment of counsel to indigent defendants in probation revocation cases until after the time period for obtaining change of judge had passed thereby subverting the defendants’ right to a change of judge.”

That charge was later amended to include four counts, alleging violations Code of Judicial Conduct and misconduct under the state constitution.

The discipline commission found "serious violations" of the code of judicial conduct and recommended Mennemeyer's suspension.

Mennemeyer did not file a response brief or file any objections to the commission's findings.

"Interfering with the administration of justice, as in this case, undermines the 'public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary,' to say nothing of the lack of promptness, efficiency or fairness to a defendant’s right to be heard," Breckendridge wrote. “What is more, the impact of Respondent’s misconduct operated to prejudice indigent defendants who were confined and awaiting appointment of counsel. Their right to be heard according to law was delayed.”

Breckenridge also wrote that the Mennemeyer’s filing of disciplinary complaints against the public violates the code of judicial conduct and constitutes misconduct.

“Even if it was not in retaliation, as respondent claimed, it was inconsistent with the propriety with which a judge should act,” she wrote.

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