Me Too Springfield Wants To Remove A Local Judge. Here’s What Missouri Law Says About That.
The group Me Too Springfield is trying to oust a Greene County circuit judge from office; the advocacy group says it feels Judge Calvin Holden’s rulings are too lenient on sexual assault perpetrators.
We reached out to several judicial sources for interviews, but they said they were unable to comment on any particular case.
They were willing, however, to point us to the rules and the Constitutional provisions that govern this process.
Removal through the Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline
When a person disagrees with a Missouri judge’s ruling, they have the right to appeal that decision through an appeals court. But the group Me Too Springfield says it’s not just one ruling they have a problem with—it’s a pattern.
The Missouri Constitution, Article V, Section 24, outlines how a judge can be removed. In short, there’s a commission that investigates complaints—the Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline.
The Constitution says if a judge is mentally or physically incapable, or if he or she is charged with a crime, for examples, then the commission can recommend that the Missouri Supreme Court remove or suspend the judge from office.
But the commission can also vote to recommend that a judge be removed for “the commission of a crime, or for misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency or any offense involving moral turpitude, or oppression in office,” according to the Missouri Constitution.
Me Too Springfield is gathering signatures to present to the commission—with the argument that a collective body of Holden’s controversial rulings fall within that definition.
Jordan Harris, the president of Me Too Springfield, said her group knows it’s an unusual request.
“While they’re not specifically something that the Commission usually looks into, we think that these sentences prove that Judge Holden is not taking the responsibility that he promised to take. He’s not doing the job that he said he would,” said Harris.
To file a complaint with the commission, Missourians have to fill out a form detailing what the judge did that they consider “misconduct.”
Often in complaint cases, the commission is considering whether the judge has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. According to the Missouri Courts website, that code says that judges should:
- uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the court, avoiding impropriety and the appearance of impropriety
- perform duties promptly, efficiently and fairly
- minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office
- avoid political or campaign activity inconsistent with the independence, integrity or impartiality of the judiciary
It’s clear from reading through the rules of the Missouri Supreme Court that complying with the law is paramount—still, judges are given discretion within the law to decide guilt or innocence, and to sentence as they deem most fitting, based on the evidence before them. Essentially, that’s why they exist as judges.
But the rules also indicate that public confidence in the judiciary is critical to the overall system. Rule 2-1.2 says:
"A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety."
The commission has the authority to conduct hearings as part of an investigation into a judge’s conduct.
Removal by impeachment of the House of Representatives
The commission is not the only way for a Missouri judge to be removed.
The state Constitution’s Article VII, Section 1 on Public Officers states the following:
"All elective executive officials of the state, and judges of the supreme court, courts of appeals and circuit courts shall be liable to impeachment for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office."
That impeachment process is carried out by the Missouri House of Representatives.
Removal by the electorate
Lastly, a judge can be removed by the people through the ballot box.
In Greene County, circuit court judges are up for retention every six years. Judge Holden was first elected circuit judge in 1996—and was most recently retained by voters in 2018. The next time he’s up for a retention vote will be 2024, according to the Greene County Circuit Clerk’s office.
KSMU requested an interview with the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline, but the commission declined, citing its confidentiality requirements.
And despite multiple attempts, we were unable to connect with Judge Holden for a comment.
Jordan Harris of Me Too Springfield says her group plans to gather signatures toward this effort Saturday at the group's rally on Park Central Square in Springfield.
Copyright 2021 KSMU. To see more, visit KSMU.