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Attorney General hires outside counsel to investigate alleged wrongdoings in Stockley case, but at what cost?

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Tension has only increased in the days following a judge’s decision to acquit former St. Louis Police officer Jason Stockley of the first-degree murder charge in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, as protesters’ continued cries for justice ring through the streets of St. Louis.

News broke in late September that Missouri’s Attorney General Josh Hawley was appointing a special counsel to review part of the case. Hawley’s office said that the lawyer of the victim’s family, Albert Watkins, wrote a letter to the Attorney General’s Office on Sept. 18 alleging that evidence had been withheld by both the City of St. Louis and officials from within the former Attorney General’s Office.

Watkins said the city and state never turned over evidence showing Stockley’s DNA was the only DNA investigators found on the revolver recovered from Smith’s car, nor did they turn over cellphone footage filmed by a witness after the shooting. He maintains that those items would have helped them gain leverage in the civil suit, as well as a settlement worth more than the $900,000 wrongful death settlement they agreed to in 2013.

Hawley on Monday announced he would appoint an independent counsel to investigate the alleged wrongdoings of those in former Attorney General Chris Koster’s office, as well as the city.

Hal Goldsmith

On Thursday, the Attorney General announced the appointment of Hal Goldsmith, an attorney with Bryan Cave, LLC to serve as the independent, outside counsel to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the Koster Administration.

“Mr. Goldsmith will have full access to AGO files and personnel to ensure a comprehensive and unbiased review of the alleged wrongdoing,” Hawley said. “I am confident he will conduct a thorough and independent investigation.”

But some have questioned why the Attorney General needed to hire from outside his office, instead of utilizing the current staff, members who did not work as part of the Koster administration.

The answer to this, according to a spokesperson with the Attorney General’s Office, is that Hawley wants to guarantee an independent and fair investigation and that Goldsmith’s unique background and qualifications have made him especially suited for such a task.

“The Attorney General picked Hal Goldsmith from among multiple highly-qualified candidates because he has unique experience in investigating government wrongdoing. In over twenty years as a federal prosecutor, he took the lead in numerous prosecutions of government corruption and police wrongdoing,” Deputy Chief of Staff Loree Anne Paradise wrote in an email. “He also has substantial experience in cases of officer-involved shootings. He was recently retained by the City of St. Louis as a special prosecutor to review and determine whether to file charges in an officer-involved shooting. Mr. Goldsmith has great credibility across the St. Louis community because of his competence, independence, and unbiased judgment.”

Stil, others question the decision to outsource the work at a time when the state’s legal expense fund continues to be a hot topic on the minds of many operating in Missouri’s political realm. Paradise assures those with concerns that they have worked to ensure a fair contract that also meets the needs to enable a fair and unbiased investigation.

She says that Goldsmith has agreed to do this representation “at substantially reduced rates from Bryan Cave’s ordinary hourly rates.” According to the contract between the Attorney General’s Office and the law firm, the agreed upon rates will be as follows:

“The government discounted rate for our professionals likely to be involved in rendering services in connection with this matter are as follows: Hal Goldsmith\ $400; Shelby Hewerdine\$250.

Goldsmith has further agreed to cap his fees at $50,000, which may not exceed that amount without prior written authorization from the Attorney General’s Office.

But another point Paradise made was that, during Hawley’s campaign, many attorneys from several law firms donated to the campaigns of both Hawley or Koster. Goldsmith, Paradise says, did not donate to General Hawley’s campaign.

“The Office picked the best person for this job, without regard to political affiliations,” she concluded.