Gov. Eric Greitens wants his day in court.
Minutes before a Missouri House committee released on Wednesday a damning report that paints the governor as a sexual predator, he stood in his second-floor Capitol office before a throng of reporters and television cameras and asked for the same constitution that guided the House’s actions to be his savior.
“In 33 days this will all come to an end because in the United States of America you get your day in court,” Greitens said.
He is right, of course.
The governor, accused by a St. Louis grand jury of felony invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a photo of a semi-nude woman without her consent, deserves his day in court. And, if the case makes it to its May 14 trial date, he will get it.
People are also reading…
But his request is oddly timed. Because of the few things that the governor has accomplished in his time in office, taking away a Missouri resident’s right to a day in court is one of them.
The right to a trial by jury is one of Missouri’s oldest rights. It’s right there in Section 22 of Article 1 of the Bill of Rights portion of the Missouri Constitution: “That the right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate,” it says.
Inviolate is a strong word. It means “free or safe from injury or violation.” But it is not a word that Greitens or the Missouri Legislature has respected.
Last year, Greitens signed Senate Bill 43, a bill that gutted Missouri human rights laws and made it easier for businesses to discriminate against employees. The new law contributed to a travel advisory issued by the NAACP. The civil rights organization told its members that coming to Missouri could put them in harm’s way. The Senate bill signed by Greitens was sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who owns a rent-to-own business that was facing a discrimination lawsuit at the time he filed the bill. Black employees had alleged that the “N-word” was used toward them and customers, that the company wouldn’t rent to certain black neighborhoods. An employee who claimed to have brought these problems to the attention of company managers was fired.
The new law makes it harder for such employees to have their day in court. By signing the law sponsored by a self-dealing lawmaker, Greitens did not hold their right of a trial by jury “inviolate.”
This year’s attempt to take away the right to a trial by jury — for those who can’t afford the sort of legal team Greitens can hire with dark-money donations — might even be worse.
Romine is at it again with Senate Bill 578, which would, by its very definition, take away the right to a trial by jury for employees in the state. Pitched as a “pro-business” bill, the proposal would allow corporations to force arbitration on employees, meaning that if they were discriminated against or sexually harassed, they could not have their day in court, but instead would have to go to secret arbitration that would protect harassers, for instance, from public disclosure. The bill is being pushed by Hallmark Cards Inc., which lost an age discrimination lawsuit brought by a woman who wanted her day in court.
A similar bill in the Missouri House, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, is stalled because of the actions of Attorney General Josh Hawley. Literally days before the House was poised to pass Corlew’s bill, Hawley signed on to a letter endorsed by every attorney general in the country to ask Congress to do the exact opposite of what Corlew and Romine are seeking to do in Missouri.
The letter from the attorneys general sought an end to forced arbitration in sexual harassment cases. It was one of the strongest political responses yet to the growing #MeToo movement that recognizes that women who are harassed, abused and raped have suffered in silence for too long.
Ironically, both Hawley and Corlew have now called for Greitens to resign or face impeachment because of his predatory actions toward a woman outlined in the House report, actions that could have remained outside the public sphere if not for the House’s action, or, of course, Greitens’ impending day in court.
Here’s how Hawley, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and his fellow attorneys general, characterize the “inviolate” right to a trial by jury that is under attack by those who want to keep their sexual harassment under wraps:
“Access to the judicial system, whether federal or state, is a fundamental right of all Americans,” they wrote. Sexual harassment victims, they said, “have a right to their day in court.”
It’s a good sentiment. An American sentiment. In 32 days and counting, Missouri’s governor expects to take full advantage of that right. In the meantime, he and some of his Republican colleagues might well take it away from those he intends to serve.