Mike Sanders once said that “the only thing I ever wanted to be from the time I went to law school was a trial attorney.” Now that he’s a convicted felon, Sanders is on the road to losing his license to practice law, perhaps forever.
The Missouri court system late last week took the first step toward stripping Sanders of his license in response to the former Jackson County executive’s guilty plea last month to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Sanders, who is also a former Jackson County prosecuting attorney, admitted in federal court that he converted up to $40,000 in campaign funds to his personal use through a kickback scheme that lasted several years.
Sanders spent the cash on trips to Napa Valley, to buy wine and pay his federal income taxes. He then lied on campaign finance reports by saying the money was being spent on get-out-the-vote activities and other campaign work, court documents said.
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Sanders has until Feb. 26 to show cause in state court why his license to practice law shouldn’t be suspended on an interim basis, pending the final disposition of his criminal case, Zel Fischer, chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, said in his signed order.
Sanders is awaiting sentencing on the conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Following sentencing in felony cases, the Missouri Supreme Court’s office of chief disciplinary counsel typically begins disbarment proceedings. Attorneys who are disbarred or surrender their law licenses rather than go through the process must wait five years before applying for reinstatement, and then it’s not guaranteed.
In addition to retaking the bar exam, applicants must pass an ethical review and fulfill other requirements.
Sanders, 50, was admitted to the Missouri bar in 1994. He began his legal career as an assistant to then-county prosecutor and now U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, before moving on to private practice.
He returned to the prosecutor’s office as its elected head in 2002 and held that job until taking office as county executive at the beginning of 2007. The wrongdoing that he was accused of in the criminal case took place while he held that job and was chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.
Sanders resigned his county job in January 2016, one year into his third four-year term. He soon after joined the Independence law firm of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, representing the city of Sugar Creek and other clients.
In December, Sanders took a leave of absence from the firm after The Star published an article detailing the kickback scheme for which he was later prosecuted.
Sanders resigned from the firm last month ahead of his guilty plea.