UPDATED at 9:50 a.m. with response from circuit attorney’s spokeswoman
ST. LOUIS • The defense team for Gov. Eric Greitens wants his trial for invasion of privacy to start in as little as two weeks, and expects to waive a jury trial in favor of a judge hearing the case.
Greitens was indicted last month on the felony charge after allegations that he took a nude picture of his former lover without her consent and threatened to release the photo if she ever mentioned his name. Greitens admitted the affair but denied blackmail.
The governor’s trial is set for May 14 before Circuit Judge Rex Burlison, but Greitens plans to ask for the trial to be moved up to April 3. The St. Louis circuit attorney’s office had sought a November trial date at one point, saying prosecutors needed time to prepare the governor’s case and still carry on with other cases already set.
Greitens’ defense team also plans to waive his right to a jury trial in favor of having a judge hear and rule on the case. Burlison has said he plans to keep the case in his courtroom.
Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, said Gardner will oppose the motions for an earlier trial date and a bench trial. According to Ryan, Gardner says St. Louis citizens have a right to decide this case.
The developments came during a Monday morning status hearing on evidence, scheduling and upcoming motions. The defense also said it plans to file a motion to dismiss the case, alleging prosecutors misled the grand jury in providing instructions of law. Further details were not available.
Chief Trial Assistant Robert Dierker called any such motion “patently frivolous.”
On Sunday night, Greitens lawyers filed a motion seeking the disqualification of a Harvard law professor hired to help prosecute the invasion of privacy case against the governor.
In the motion, Greitens’ defense lawyers claim Gardner’s hire of Harvard University professor Ronald S. Sullivan is a misdemeanor crime because:
• Special prosecutors may only be appointed by a judge in cases where the elected prosecutor has a conflict of interest, the motion claims.
• Sullivan is employed by parties other than the state of Missouri in criminal cases. Sullivan has worked as a private defense lawyer who has represented the family of Michael Brown and on other high-profile cases.
• Gardner’s prorated $12,000-per-month consultant contract with Sullivan violates state law forbidding private attorneys to assist elected prosecutors. Also, the defense claims Sullivan’s contract allows him to hire other legal assistants who may be political foes of the Republican governor. The motion claims Sullivan’s background includes work with a group backed by liberal billionaire George Soros, who also supported Gardner’s campaign.
“The Circuit Attorney’s attempt to privatize this prosecution is a blatant departure from the role of public prosecutor and the established procedures and protections,” the defense motion said.
Ryan, the spokeswoman for Gardner, rejected the defense team’s claims, saying Missouri law gives Gardner discretion to hire special prosecutors. She said Sullivan’s hire is legal because he has no pending litigation against the state of Missouri.
“The law clearly allows the circuit attorney to swear in special assistant circuit attorneys for purposes just like this,” Ryan said.
Sullivan’s hiring is not the only hire Gardner has made that has caused controversy. William Don Tisaby, a private investigator from Michigan and former FBI agent was hired to investigate the case. He was being deposed Monday in a fourth-floor conference room in the Carnahan Courthouse. Tisaby was once accused of committing bigamy and lying to the FBI about it.
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Last week, prosecutors said they turned over the grand jury testimony of the governor’s former lover as well as a month of his phone records. Also turned over were photos of the Central West End home Greitens and his family occupied at the time.
The accusations against Greitens have also spawned a legislative inquiry. The Missouri House committee investigating Greitens is expected to wrap up on April 8.