New federal prosecutor for Eastern District of Missouri begins work this week

Thursday, February 11, 2010
Richard Callahan (Submitted photo)

With less than two years left of law school, Richard Callahan dropped his daytime classes for a full-time job at the Internal Revenue Service, where he aspired to become a tax lawyer.

More than 30 years later, Callahan has become the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. President Barack Obama nominated Callahan in September. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Dec. 24, sworn in Jan. 22 and began his first official week on the job Monday.

Callahan said he has stayed connected to his roots, which has prepared him for the job of U.S. attorney.

"I think I've been grounded because of lifelong associations," he said. "Your old friends are not easily impressed, and that's a good thing."

Callahan calls his first six years after law school, when he was responsible for prosecuting felonies in St. Louis, the most exciting time of his career.

"We were young, and law was the newest," he said.

As his career advanced, Callahan became special prosecutor in Cole County and in 1986 was elected prosecuting attorney.

Larry Ferrell, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, said Callahan was often called upon by other prosecutors for advice in complicated cases.

"He was admired by his contemporaries for his legal talents," Ferrell said. "Even more importantly, he was respected for his character and integrity."

Scott Charton, former bureau chief for the Associated Press in Jefferson City, Mo., regularly covered Callahan when he was a prosecutor. He said Callahan tried numerous cases that involved top politicians in Missouri.

In 1996, Callahan prosecuted Missouri Secretary of State Judi Moriarty, who was removed from office for manipulating the election filing of her son.

Charton said Callahan was a meticulous prosecutor who showed disregard for political parties.

"He showed the qualities of a methodical bulldog, gnawing and gnawing at the facts to make his cases," Charton said. "That's why I believe he will be a tough federal prosecutor without consideration of partisan politics."

After 16 years, Callahan said, he was persuaded to run as circuit judge in Cole County, was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2008.

The switch from practicing law in front of the bench to behind it wasn't a big change, he said, as the ethical duties for each position remain the same.

Before being sworn in as U.S. attorney, Callahan attended a series of orientation events in Washington, D.C., and completed a week of training in South Carolina. Now that he's in his St. Louis office, Callahan said he faces a steep learning curve working in the federal system after practicing at the state level for 37 years.

"The job challenges one to do your best, both professionally and personally," Callahan said. "My goal right now, it's to learn as quickly as I can."

Although Callahan has tried nearly 200 jury trials since being admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1972, Callahan said that won't be part of his job as U.S. attorney right away. "Right now, they need someone to learn the administrative side and be in the office. I don't plan on trying any cases in the first couple of years," Callahan said.

As part of the nomination process for U.S. attorney, Callahan submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee his 10 most significant litigated matters.

The Missouri v. Ferguson, tried before Cape Girardeau County Circuit Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr., now a federal judge for the district, was significant to Callahan because the defendant in the case made the FBI's most wanted list after he raped a Cape Girardeau woman and evaded law enforcement for two years. Ferguson committed the rape when he was on parole from a life sentence in California, where as a youth he murdered silent screen star Ramon Navarro.

Ferguson was found guilty and sentenced to 60 years.

In Kezer v. Domire, Callahan freed Joshua Kezer, who had been imprisoned for a 1992 Southeast Missouri murder, based on evidence discovered after the trial and the prosecution keeping evidence from the defense during trial. Callahan was Cole County Circuit Court judge at the time.

"I didn't do much except do my job, but I give a lot of credit to the sheriff who reopened the investigation," Callahan said.

Despite the career changes he's made since first becoming an attorney, Callahan said he never left one position for a better one.

Every job he's had, he said, is one he could have done for his entire life because they all made him happy.

"It seemed like it was a continuation of what I was doing in a slightly different environment, and it seemed right," Callahan said. "I consider myself one of the luckiest human beings because I have always enjoyed every minute of every job I've ever done."


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