The inevitability of the process may have been signaled two weeks ago when Republican State Senate President Pro Tem and 16-year veteran legislator Ron Richard referred to the predicament surrounding the governor as a “situation of the ages”
The special session to consider if impeachment proceedings will be initiated against Governor Eric Greitens starts two weeks from Friday. It’ll mark the first-time lawmakers have called themselves back into special proceedings since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1988 giving them such authority.
Lawmakers will reassemble at 6:30 p.m. on May 18th, shortly after they’re required to adjourn the regular session for the year.
Rules of the Missouri House stipulate that articles of impeachment can be introduced only by a committee that is designated by the House speaker. 18 House Democrats signed a letter to Republican Speaker Todd Richardson Tuesday demanding action after there was no movement on a resolution to give that designation to the current special House committee investigating the governor.
Once that groundwork is complete, the House would then have to pass articles of impeachment for proceedings in the special session to move forward. The articles would be treated as a bill requiring simple majority approval – 82 votes – in the chamber.
Under Missouri law, if the House votes to impeach the Governor, he would be suspended from his office.
The articles would then be sent to the Senate which would elect a special commission of seven “eminent jurists” selected from among the state’s circuit and appellate judges. (Supreme Court judges are not eligible for impeachment proceedings against the governor or judges from the high bench.)
The seven judges would meet in Jefferson City to conduct a trial on the impeachment charge within 30 days after their election on a date designated by the Senate. Five judges must agree for the governor to be convicted.
Conviction would be based on civil, not criminal court standards. Civil courts generally require a “preponderance of evidence” rather than the higher standard in criminal courts of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.
The impeachment process can take place regardless of whether the official is charged or convicted of a crime. Proceedings can also take place with or without the participation of the accused.
Grounds for impeachment are stated in the Missouri Constitution. Elected officials and judges are liable for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office.
In the case of Governor Greitens, lawmakers have seized on the term “moral turpitude” as justification for impeachment. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of moral turpitude is an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community.
Impeachment proceeding last took place in Missouri 24 years ago. In 1994, former Democratic Secretary of State Judith Moriarty was impeached and removed from office after being accused of tampering with documents that allowed her son to run for office.
Eight Republicans filed to impeach Democratic Governor Jay Nixon in 2014 when he allowed same-sex couples legally married in other states to file joint income taxes. That effort came to a quick end when the House Judiciary Committee failed to send the case to the full House.
The only Missouri governor removed from office was Claiborne Fox Jackson in 1861. According to Missourinet historian and former News Director Bob Priddy, Jackson lied during his campaign by pretending to be against secession when he was actually plotting to align Missouri with the Confederate South.
The proceedings against Governor Geitens come as the Republican head of state faces two felony cases.
One charge – invasion of privacy – alleges he took and transmitted a non-consensual photo of a woman who was undressed, bound and blindfolded.
The other charge – computer tampering – accuses him of obtaining and transferring a donor list from his former charity without permission for campaign purpose. Greitens has admitted to an extramarital affair but denies any criminal wrongdoing.
His trial on the first charge is scheduled to start May 14th in St. Louis Circuit Court, four days before the special legislative session on impeachment begins in Jefferson City.