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Recent Missouri Editorials

Associated Press Updated: February 17, 2015 at 5:02 am
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 16

Court should allow Ferguson juror to speak:

By all usual legal standards, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch conducted an unorthodox grand jury proceeding into the circumstances of the police shooting death last August of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

The vast majority of prosecutions begin with a prosecutor charging someone with a crime. Then a judge agrees that the case merits trial and months later, the case goes to a trial jury. The jury is presented with evidence for and against the defendant, and then must decide on guilt or innocence.

In more complicated cases involving serious crimes, the case sometimes is first presented to a grand jury. The prosecution leads the jurors through the evidence. Jurors nearly always return indictments if that's what the prosecutors want.

In the case of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Mr. Brown, Mr. McCulloch chose to have two assistant prosecutors lay all available evidence before the jurors. They explained applicable law — first incorrectly — but ostensibly did not suggest what conclusions should be reached.

Now, in a case filed last month in U.S. District Court here, Grand Juror Doe v. McCulloch, one of the grand jurors is suing Mr. McCulloch, asking court protection to speak about the case. The anonymous juror fears legal reprisal for violating Missouri law that generally specifies secrecy for grand jury proceedings. It would be up to Mr. McCulloch to prosecute such a case.

By refusing to allow Juror Doe to speak, Mr. McCulloch is denying the juror the same privilege he used in not following normal procedure — the right to treat this case differently. If rules can be bent in one direction, they should be able to bend again.

Mr. McCulloch has maintained that the way he handled this grand jury guaranteed transparency and allowed jurors to independently evaluate the evidence. Whether that is accurate continues to be debated. Knowing Grand Juror Doe's views would inform that debate, particularly as it enters the legislative arena, where some lawmakers are contemplating changes to the grand jury process.

What is at stake is public trust in a judicial system that all too frequently doesn't work to the advantage of poor people or people of color. Critics asked Mr. McCulloch to recuse himself from the case in the beginning, accusing him of having a pro-police bias and of not being able to fairly conduct the grand jury examination.

For the same reasons, some sought to have Gov. Jay Nixon appoint a special prosecutor in the case. Those things did not happen, which left critics anticipating that the outcome would be exactly what it was — no indictment for Mr. Wilson, a white police officer who said he shot Michael Brown after he was attacked and feared for his life.

Grand Juror Doe contends that grand jury documents released by Mr. McCulloch "do not fully portray the proceedings before the grand jury." Juror Doe wants to challenge Mr. McCulloch's "implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges," the Post-Dispatch's Robert Patrick reported Feb. 9.

The juror's lawsuit criticizes the investigation of Mr. Wilson, and suggests there was an unusual focus on Mr. Brown's background. It also complains that the legal guidelines presented were "muddled and untimely."

The suit says Juror Doe is seeking "to advocate for legislative change to the way grand juries are conducted in Missouri" and claims that allowing the juror to speak could "contribute to the current public dialogue concerning race relations."

The public does not know how the 12 members of the grand jury voted. Nine would have had to agree in order to bring a criminal indictment. The actual vote remains a secret.

The jurors — seven men, five women; nine whites, three blacks — were chosen from the circuit court petit jury pool in May. Their term would normally have expired in September but state law allowed them to sit for six months and then they were further ordered to sit for another 60 days.

They met in the courthouse on 25 separate days, heard 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses and sifted through thousands of documents, including forensics reports, police radio logs, medical documents and tapes of F.B.I. interviews with bystanders.

They delivered their decision Nov. 24. Their service was exemplary.

If Juror Doe wishes to speak about his service, he should be allowed to do so. When Mr. McCulloch waived the normal court rules for himself, he set a precedent that he should follow for the juror.

Mr. McCulloch's attorneys, from the Missouri attorney general's and the St. Louis County counselor's offices, are asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit. His response says the juror's fear of prosecution is unfounded and that the juror has not claimed to want to talk about anything beyond what Mr. McCulloch has already released.

The prosecutor's response says the juror's self-censorship "based on mere allegations of a 'subjective' chill resulting from a statue is not enough to support standing ... and 'persons' having no fears of state prosecution except those that are imaginary or speculative are not to be accepted as appropriate plaintiffs."

That Juror Doe is seeking court protection indicates he or she fears reprisals. Reassurances from the prosecutor do not carry the weight of court protection. The juror should be allowed to speak. It would be an important contribution to the public dialogue that is underway regarding race relations in our community.

___

The Kansas City Star, Feb. 9

UMKC learns hard lesson about college rankings:

University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton's public apology for the submission of trumped-up ratings data in the Henry W. Bloch School of Management's entrepreneurship program was welcome but belated.

Emails obtained by the Star show that some faculty in the Bloch School in 2014 were questioning rankings in a professional journal even as the university administration was using them as a recruiting tool.

An email last August from Jeff Hornsby, managing director of the Bloch School's Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, suggests that administrators outside the Bloch School were made aware of the doubts.

"As I have stated many times to the PR (public relations) team and in meetings, we need to be careful about defending these outcomes," Hornsby said. "Our continued defense continues to deteriorate our credibility and legitimacy."

That assertion turned out to be prophetic. In a related but separate rankings problem, an audit turned up evidence of inflated data provided to the Princeton Review, which recently removed UMKC from its top 25 list of entrepreneurship programs.

On KCUR radio's "Up to Date" program Monday, Morton apologized to students, faculty, alumni and supporters.

"This is a serious issue to me because it is not what we are about," he said.

Referring to pressure within the entrepreneurship program to inflate the data, Morton said, "It's not necessary. These are great programs."

Indeed, it ought to be the case in academia that high quality programs stand on their own without relying on the gimmickry that characterizes college rankings. Unfortunately, schools and prospective students place a great deal of emphasis on the various lists.

UMKC is by no means the first school to get caught gaming the rankings. But the administration's refusal to candidly acknowledge the falsehoods until the Princeton Review took action suggests that its priorities were askew.

What happened in the entrepreneurship program shouldn't define UMKC, or even the entire Bloch School. Faculty, staff and students in the medical programs, Conservatory of Music and elsewhere work hard each day to strive for excellence without cheating.

With false boasting about rankings, the entrepreneurship program told students they'd have access to a premiere education with some of the best scholars in the field. The university is honor-bound to live up to those pledges, but the rankings scandal will make the job much harder.

___

Southeast Missourian, Feb. 11

State officials should find ways to save on air travel:

There's no question Missouri is a big state and that sometimes air travel for public officials is necessary.

However, a recent audit by the Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich said $376,000 was spent to fly transportation and conservation commissioners to meetings during 2012 and 2013. This was only one part of the audit, which called the state's fleet of planes too large and pointed to Gov. Nixon's office as primary user of the highway patrol plane in the same time period.

Roberta Broeker, chief financial officer of the Department of Transportation, said in an Associated Press story that plane use was important to make travel easier for commissioners.

The audit also highlighted that spouses, family members and former commissioners traveled with commissioners via state planes, which is against Missouri's policy. Planes were at full capacity about 10 percent of time.

We have editorialized in previous years about Gov. Nixon's use of state planes. But as the audit notes, it's more than the governor's office.

The auditor said only the highway patrol and conservation departments regularly used state planes for commissioners.

There are times when using a state plane is necessary. However, other statewide elected officials, commissioners and members of the General Assembly regularly use ground transportation for meetings. Schweich suggested reimbursing mileage was more cost effective and that departments should better coordinate plane travel.

We hope others find opportunities to minimize air travel and abide by state policy regarding who can use the planes.

Elected officials are asked to be good stewards with state dollars. When you consider past budget cuts of needed services, it should put more emphasis on finding ways to save. Usage of state planes is one.

____

Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal, Feb. 16

Halt state ethics train in Mo. legislature

Missouri lawmakers long have had a no-brake, pedal-to-the-metal mentality regarding how fast and loose they get to play with gifts provided by lobbyists - free meals, free events, free trips . Freebies for all.

Lobbyists punch the ticket to ride that crazy train.

A few Democrats in the 1990s, including Rep. Greg Canuteson, tried to derail Jefferson City's free-wheeling freebie train. Democrats had the majority then. But few listened to Canuteson, just as they did not listen to those who came before him or those who came after he left.

Now comes Republican House Speaker John Diehl. He grabbed a shovel and stoked headlines after he squeezed, ever so delicately, on the train's brake by telling committee chairs to stop eating lobbyist-catered lunches during committee meetings, and that those meetings had to occur at the Capitol, rather than in places like country clubs. Diehl did not do so through a formal rules change. Essentially, he issued an edict. Committee chairs could ignore him. But Diehl more than technically could replace them, so compliance seems assured.

As an engineer on the state's freebie train, Diehl made a good move. Banning lobbyist-paid lunches at public committee meetings, and making sure committee meetings are accessible to the public, are praiseworthy moves. But, kept in proportion, the overall decision is minor. The train still runs recklessly with a full head of steam fueled by lobbyists' money.

Banning all lobbyists' gifts is necessary to stop the train. Doing so would be viewed as a major step in the effort to restore ethics to the Missouri General Assembly, as opposed to Diehl's gingerly tap on the brakes.

Whether other lawmakers will remain "all aboard" on the runaway train or take the hint to jump off remains unclear with about two-thirds of this year's legislative session remaining.

Regardless of which direction the tracks may take others, if ethical behavior rather than making headlines is the goal, then Diehl needs to quit pussyfooting around, grab hold of the brake, pull back hard, send the freebie-takers flying onto their fat cabooses and bring a decisive halt to the runaway train.

For now, the train's on two wheels and around the bend and the bridge is out on ethics.

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