The Missouri Supreme Court has sided with a disciplinary counsel in deciding that Platt County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd violated rules of professional responsibility.

Missouri Supreme Court – Image courtesy of Missouri Courts

Zahnd publicly criticized letter writers who expressed support for a man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting one of his daughters.

In doing so, the high judges determined that Zahnd engaged in prejudicial conduct meant to embarrass the letter writers and fined him $750.

The state Disciplinary Counsel had asked for stiffer penalties, including a six-month suspension of his law license and a fine of $1,000 to pay for fee and costs.

Following the sentencing of Darren Paden, Zahnd’s office issued a statement to the media expressing disappointment in community members that supported a defendant who had confessed to sex crimes against a child.

The release identified the people who had written letters and included their current or former employers. Three of the individuals named in the news release claimed they were harmed as a result.

The case deeply divided tiny Dearborn, a town of fewer than 500 residents north of Kansas City. 52-year-old Paden, who was a prominent member of the community, was given two 25-year terms in prison for statutory sodomy in 2015.

The closely watched case drew the attention of a number of interest groups. Five Friend of the Court documents were filed, four of them siding with Prosecutor Zahnd.

Among the organization backing him were the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Missouri Press Association while the National and Missouri Associations of Criminal Defense Lawyers supported sanctions against him.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case roughly three weeks ago on May 2nd.

Zahnd had been considered a strong candidate to become the next U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, the top federal prosecutor in that part of the state.

But former Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison was confirmed for that position just days before Zahnd’s case came before the high bench.

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