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Judge rejects lawsuit to remove Kehoe from lieutenant governor's office

Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on Monday administered the oath of office to Mike Kehoe inside the governor's office in Jefferson City
Courtesy of Harrison Sweazea Photography
Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce administers the oath of office to Mike Kehoe inside the governor's office in Jefferson City.

Updated July 12 with brief response from plaintiffs' attorney - A Cole County judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the appointment of Mike Kehoe as Missouri’s lieutenant governor.

In a ruling issued late Wednesday, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem said that Gov. Mike Parson had the authority to appoint fellow Republican Kehoe to the state’s No. 2 office, under the Missouri Constitution.

The Missouri Democratic Party, along with Hartville resident Darrell Cope, contended that state statute specifically prohibits a governor from appointing a lieutenant governor. Their attorney, Matt Vianello, noted that law states that a governor can fill vacancies “other than in the offices of lieutenant governor, state senator or representative, sheriff, or recorder of deeds in the city of St. Louis.”

But Beetem said in his ruling that the plaintiffs misinterpreted the meaning of the law as it pertained to the recent lieutenant governor vacancy. Since there is nothing in state law spelling out how a lieutenant governor vacancy is filled, the governor therefore has the power to make the decision.

“Plaintiffs expressly pled in their Petition that ‘Missouri law…provides no way to fill a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor,’” he said. “Because the plain language of Article IV, Section 4 authorizes the Governor to fill the vacancy unless Missouri law furnishes or supplies another way to fill it, this concession is fatal to Plaintiffs’ case.”

Beetem also ruled that the plaintiffs don’t have the authority, as private parties, to seek Kehoe’s removal from office by civil lawsuit.

Parson praised the decision late Wednesday.

“This affirms our position as well as the position of previous governors from both parties,” he said. “We look forward to continuing our work with Lt. Gov. Kehoe, and also commend the work of Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office in effectively arguing the merits of this case on an important constitutional issue.”

Vianello said they're considering filing a direct appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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