Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley faces a lawsuit from a Jefferson City woman who alleges that he is violating a state law that requires him to live in the capital city.
Hawley, a Republican who is mounting a campaign for U.S. Senate, has been dogged with questions about his residency throughout his first year as attorney general. Missouri law states that the attorney general “shall reside at the seat of government and keep his office in the Supreme Court building.”
Hawley’s family home is in nearby Boone County, but he maintains an apartment in Jefferson City.
“Attorney General Josh Hawley is knowingly breaking the law by living in Boone County, and he must be held accountable,” Donna Mueller, the woman bringing the lawsuit, said in statement. “It’s unacceptable for any Missourian to knowingly break the law — and it is particularly unacceptable for the Attorney General, who is the elected official charged with enforcing it.”
The suit was filed Tuesday in Cole County Circuit Court.
Hawley’s office disputed the notion that he has violated the residency requirement.
“The Attorney General’s residency clearly complies with Missouri law and precedent. The office is in Jefferson City as required by law,” Loree Anne Paradise, Hawley’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The Attorney General maintains a nearby residence as matter of custom and his permanent residence is minutes away, enabling him to be at the capital on even the shortest notice.”
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent Hawley is trying to unseat, has previously attacked Hawley on the residency issue, saying in August that he was likely violating the state law.
Mueller served as a member of the Democratic State Committee in the early 2000s and was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 1996. However, Mueller said in a phone call Wednesday that she was unaware of Hawley’s Senate campaign and maintained that her lawsuit had no connection to the high-profile race, which could determine control of the U.S. Senate in 2018.
“No, I didn’t know he was,” Mueller said when asked about Hawley’s campaign. “I’m just concerned that if anybody should know the law, it’s our attorney general. Evidently, he didn’t know or he thought nobody would call him on the fact.”
Her attorney, Gaylin Carver, also said the lawsuit is not connected to Hawley’s campaign against McCaskill.
“She hasn’t been active as an officer for a while,” Carver said of her client. “This is our community in Jefferson County, Cole County. The state attorney general has always raised his family here. ... I think she feels incensed that he (Hawley) thinks he doesn’t have to follow the statute.”
Hawley’s campaign, however, saw the lawsuit as directly tied to the Senate race. “This is petty and will remind voters why Senator McCaskill is the most unpopular politician in the state,” Scott Paradise, Hawley’s campaign spokesman, said in an email.
McCaskill’s campaign responded to the lawsuit by echoing the senator’s earlier criticism of the attorney general.
“Claire didn’t go to a fancy school like Yale, she went to Mizzou, but like many other smart Missouri lawyers she still understands that ‘shall’ means ‘shall.’ The Attorney General is not above the law and it’s clear that Missourians believe he should be held accountable for his actions,” said Meira Bernstein, a state Democratic spokeswoman authorized to speak for McCaskill’s campaign.
Hawley was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to attend an event for the Independent Women’s Forum. His wife, Erin Hawley, is a senior fellow with the organization. While in Washington, Hawley also attended policy briefings and spoke to potential supporters, his campaign confirmed.