IN RE: THE HONORABLE CHRISTINA KUNZA MENNEMEYER, Respondent.
Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline seeks
discipline against Respondent, the Honorable Christina Kunza
Mennemeyer. See Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 24.3;
Supreme Court Rule 12.07(c). After considering the findings
of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation of the
Commission, and in accordance with this Court's
independent review of the record, Respondent is suspended,
without pay, for a period of six months beginning February 1,
2017. See In re Hill, 8 S.W.3d 578, 580 (Mo. banc
November 6, 2014, the director of the Missouri State Public
Defender System filed a detailed complaint against
Respondent. The director alleged a "judicial practice of
deliberately postponing the appointment of counsel to
indigent defendants in probation violation cases until after
the time period for disqualification of the judge has passed,
for the stated and overt reason of preventing the public
defender from disqualifying her." The director further
charged that Respondent "threatened to bring bar
complaints against any public defender who entered an
appearance in advance of her appointment date."
dispute began in 2013 concerning the interpretation of
section 600.042, RSMo Supp. 2013. The public defender's
office believed that it had discretionary authority to
provide legal services to eligible persons when appropriate.
Respondent, however, disagreed, believing a court order was
required before such services could be provided.
In an e-mail to the public defender's office, Respondent
Effective immediately, I will be filing bar complaints on any
attorney who purports to represent a client without proper
authority. This means when they file an entry in a case they
have no authority to enter on, I believe they are in
violation of the rules of ethics. The ethics commission can
then sort it out. The solution is simple. Don't enter or
purport to represent a client on a case you have not been
ordered into by a Judge if it is a probation case. Follow the
procedure and wait to be appointed.
to resolve the dispute, the director requested an opportunity
to meet and "come up with a resolution that will meet
your concerns and mine." Respondent would not, stating
that the suggestion for a meeting was
"presumptuous" and "a joke."
director then learned that Respondent was going to continue
probation revocation cases at least 60 days because she was
tired of the public defender's office disqualifying her.
The court clerk testified that when she submitted the form to
Respondent for an indigent defendant to be represented by the
public defender's office, Respondent gave it back to her,
stating: "I'm not appointing them right now, I'm
waiting 60 days to - so the public defender cannot disqualify
record shows that the time lapse from the service of process
to the appointment of counsel was 60 days or longer in a
number of cases. In each delayed appointment, the defendant
filed an application that showed no significant income or
assets. And in each case, the defendant was confined on the
date of the first appearance. During the same time period a
number of cases came before Respondent for appointment of
counsel, but the defendants had no right to request a change
of judge due to Respondent having previously been assigned to
the case. In those cases, Respondent made the appointment of
counsel well before 60 days.
December 4, 2015, the Commission issued a notice to
Respondent to appear and answer the charge of engaging in
"a practice of postponing the appointment of counsel to
indigent defendants in probation revocation cases until after
the time period for obtaining change of judge had passed
thereby subverting the defendants' right to a change of
judge." The charge was subsequently amended to include
four counts alleging violations of the Code of Judicial
Conduct and misconduct under the Missouri Constitution.
weeks of receiving notice of the judicial complaint, on
December 29, 2015, Respondent filed a complaint with the
office of chief disciplinary counsel stating that although a
public defender was legally allowed to enter his appearance
in a habeas corpus proceeding, the Respondent nevertheless
felt obligated to file the complaint because of her
disagreement with the public defender's office concerning
representation of indigent defendants in probation revocation
cases. Respondent ultimately conceded before the Commission
that the actions of the public defender in the habeas corpus
proceeding were legal and that it would be appropriate for
her to withdraw her complaint.
hearing on the complaint against Respondent, the Commission
received exhibits and testimony, including Respondent's
testimony. See In re Elliston, 789 S.W.2d 469, 472
(Mo. banc 1990). Following the hearing, the Commission found
The Commission finds that there was no reason to not appoint
the Public Defender on the first court appearance in [cases
where it was delayed beyond 60 days].
The Commission finds that Respondent postponed the
appointment of counsel . . . and thereby the defendants'
rights to a change of judge and the rights to access to
counsel were subverted.
The Commission further finds that Respondent's conduct
was intentional for the purpose of avoiding the Public
Defender's opportunity to obtain a change of judge.
The Commission also finds . . . that the conduct . . . was a
practice or pattern of conduct.
The Commission finds Respondent's actions of threatening
and then in filing an ethics complaint against [a public
defender] . . . to be coercive, operating to restrict the
ability of the Public Defender Office to represent their
clients, and appeared to be and was filed in retaliation for
a complaint filed by the Director of the Public Defender
Office against Respondent.
accordance with these findings of fact, the Commission
"found serious violations of the Code of Judicial
Conduct, " including Rules 2-1.1, 2-1.2, 2-2.2(A)-(B),
2-2.3(A), 2-2.5(A), 2-2.6(A), 2-2.16, as well as misconduct
under article V, section 24, of the Missouri Constitution.
The Commission then submitted to this Court a transcript of
the record of all evidence and of all proceedings before it,
along with its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and
recommendation that Respondent be suspended from office
without pay for a period of six months. Respondent did not
file a brief in this Court with any objections to the
Commission's findings, conclusions, or recommendation and
did not request oral argument. See Rule 12.08.
Court has the ultimate responsibility to 'remove,
suspend, discipline or reprimand any judge of any
court.'" In re Hill, 8 S.W.3d at 581
(quoting Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 24). This Court
"independently reviews the evidence and the
Commission's fact findings." Id. (citing
In re Buford, 577 S.W.2d 809 (Mo. banc 1979)).
"Where credibility is at issue, this Court gives
substantial consideration and due deference to the
Commission's ability to judge the credibility of
witnesses appearing before it." Id. (citing
In re Briggs, 595 S.W.2d 270 (Mo. banc 1980)).
Disciplinary charges must be proved by a preponderance of the
evidence. In re Baber, 847 S.W.2d 800, 802 (Mo. banc
of the correct interpretation of any law - section 600.042 in
this case - it is a violation of the Code of Judicial
Conduct, and misconduct under the constitutional standard,
for a judge to intentionally subvert the rights of litigants.
See In re Hill, 8 S.W.3d at 583 (noting this Court
must find the judge violated a constitutional standard such
as misconduct); Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 24.3 (Disciplinary
action against a judge is authorized "for the commission
of a crime, or for misconduct . . . or oppression in
office."); see also In re Elliston, 789 S.W.2d
at 477 (noting that a threat to continue an action following