Court: Cooper must give reasons to keep law license

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Former state Rep. Nathan Cooper has until 5 p.m. today to respond to a Missouri Supreme Court order directing him to present reasons why his law license should not be suspended.

The action, called an "order to show cause," was issued in response to a motion for interim suspension filed by Sharon Weedin of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, the agency responsible for monitoring actions by attorneys.

The order was signed by Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith. Judge Stephen Limbaugh of Cape Girardeau did not participate in the action and made no comment on his withdrawal from the case.

Cooper, who specializes in immigration law as lawyer, pleaded guilty last Thursday in federal court to two counts of felony immigration fraud. Cooper set up shell companies to seek seasonal worker visas for foreign truck drivers who were employed by legal clients. He also illegally purchased seasonal worker visas approved for hospitality workers in Utah and provided them to the foreign drivers. Most of the drivers were from New Zealand.

The maximum penalty for Cooper's crimes is 15 years in prison. Federal prosecutors have said that he is cooperating with an ongoing investigation and federal sentencing guidelines point to a 30- to 37-month prison term.

The order cited the guilty plea as the grounds for taking action against Cooper's law license. The day after he entered the plea, Cooper filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Bosnian refugee seeking to force the National Customs and Immigration Service office in St. Louis to process an application for naturalization.

Cooper has other cases pending before the courts as well.

Cooper, a Republican, resigned Tuesday from his House seat representing Cape Girardeau. The court's order, issued late in the day Wednesday, gave Cooper about 24 hours to respond. Cooper was given notice of the order by fax, which will be followed by additional copies sent by regular and registered mail.

The next step is up to Cooper, said Beth Riggert, communications counsel for the high court. Even if he does not reply, she said, the court would have to issue another order suspending his license.

If Cooper does reply, she said, the high court will consider the response before issuing an order. But there are no rules requiring any public proceedings before the court acts, Riggert said. "They don't have to have any kind of arguments," she said. "They can issue an order after the time has passed."

Cooper did not return a message left at his law office. His defense attorney, Joel Schwartz of St. Louis, did not return a message left on his mobile telephone.

335-6611, extension 126

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