LINCOLN COUNTY • The presiding judge will not seek a review of a disciplinary panel’s recommendation that she be suspended for six months without pay for “serious” and “troubling” violations, her lawyer said Monday.
Circuit Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer filed a statement with the Missouri Supreme Court on Oct. 18, saying that she would neither file a brief on her own behalf nor request an oral argument.
Jim Smith, a lawyer for the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline, filed a document acknowledging the statement.
Mennemeyer’s lawyer, Paul D’Agrosa, told a reporter it was in her “best interests to move on.” He said she had “always acted in good faith.”
Said D’Agrosa, “In the entirety, we do not accept the factual findings of the commission. And many of those facts were disputed and we ... don’t believe the conclusions that she intentionally delayed cases and kept defendants in custody,” he said.
The matter now goes to the Supreme Court, which has the final word on the discipline.
Last month, the commission recommended the sanction, saying it believed that Mennemeyer improperly delayed criminal cases during a legal dispute with the public defender’s office, which meant extra months in jail for some defendants.
The commission also found that Mennemeyer tried to coerce and intimidate public defenders, in part by filing an unfounded disciplinary complaint against Lincoln County’s head public defender in retaliation for one his boss had filed against her.
The inquiry did acknowledge that Mennemeyer had limited experience before taking the bench, and said she had cooperated with the inquiry.
Michael Downey, a St. Louis lawyer who specializes in legal ethics and lawyer discipline, explained Monday: “The fact that they’re not filing anything means, frankly, that they don’t want to fight it.”
Downey said that opposing the panel’s recommendation would risk angering the Supreme Court by making its judges think, “You’re not taking what happened seriously,” and risking more serious discipline.
Six months, he said, should be “more than adequate” to deter her and other judges from similar conduct, he said.
With the suspension, Mennemeyer keeps her job and her pension, Downey said.
A database from November 2014 showed her salary was then $145,343 a year.
Another judge would be transferred in to serve temporarily during the suspension.
Downey also said that the case should remind voters to choose judges carefully.
“It’s very easy for them to cause harm and very hard to undo that harm,” he said.
Mennemeyer, who graduated from law school in 1997, had never handled a jury trial when she was elected in 2012 as the county’s only circuit judge.
Russell Faria, convicted by a jury in her court of murdering his wife, later won a new trial because Mennemeyer had refused to allow evidence of an alternate suspect. Faria was then acquitted and the alternative suspect, Pamela Hupp, awaits trial in a related murder in St. Charles County.