The state’s legal bills stemming from the scandal-plagued tenure of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens continue to mount. And with a civil lawsuit pending against the office of the governor, the cost will only rise.
The Missouri Office of Administration is reviewing bills from two high-priced attorneys hired to defend Greitens in a special House committee’s investigation.
Taxpayers were billed more than $150,000 in that case. But as Republican State Rep. Jay Barnes, leader of that House committee, said on Monday, Greitens is responsible and should be held personally liable. Barnes asked the state to refuse payment.
"Those legal fees should be borne exclusively by Eric Greitens himself," Barnes said.
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The Missouri Supreme Court has said the treasurer’s office has the authority to refuse to issue payments, according to State Auditor Nicole Galloway's office. Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley also has questioned the legality of the hires.
Galloway told reporters over the weekend that she has concerns about using taxpayer dollars to pay for the ex-governor’s private attorneys. All Missourians should be troubled.
Last month, Galloway requested information from the governor's office about the cost, budget and funding source to pay the private attorneys. She should pursue every avenue possible to provide a full accounting of how tax dollars are being used to pay these lawyers.
Although Greitens has resigned and the felony charges against him have been dropped, questions remain about who's paying the legal bills and exactly how much those high-dollar lawyers will ultimately cost. Like the rest of the former governor's administration, details have been shrouded in secrecy as even fellow Republicans have asserted that Greitens illegally hired his impeachment attorneys.
Since the governor’s office is entangled in a civil case involving allegations of open records violations by Greitens and his staff, legal bills are still piling up.
In the suit, 20 members of Greitens' administration are accused of using Confide, an app that erases text messages after they are read.
A Cole County judge will hear arguments June 19 on whether to require the governor's office to answer questions about the use of the app to conduct state business.
With Greitens gone, the onus is now on Parson to push for the truth — and to protect taxpayers.
"The governor's office has a new client," Mark Pedroli, an attorney and plaintiff in the Confide lawsuit, told The Star on Monday. "Mike Parson has to decide if the office of governor will continue to stonewall or let the investigation go forth."
Either way, the litigation will cost the state a sizable sum. Kansas City-based Bryan Cave law firm, at a rate of $140 an hour, has been paid $6,720 from the state's legal defense fund to represent the governor’s office in the Confide suit.
The bill was for less than a month's worth of work in March. Surely there are more expensive invoices to come.
"We have received one invoice and approved payment for that," Hawley's press secretary, Mary Compton, said.
Missourians shouldn't be on the hook for Greitens' private affairs and public misdeeds. And they deserve a full accounting of who's footing the bill.
Greitens made this legal mess, and he should pick up the tab.