Moss interested in replacing Swingle

Friday, November 9, 2012

Of 14 Missouri prosecuting attorneys appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon, none have been Republican. Allen Moss is hoping to become the first.

One day after Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle announced his resignation, Moss became the first person from the legal community to state his interest.

"I do plan on applying for the job," Moss said Thursday in an interview with the Southeast Missourian. "That's a job I've been interested in since I first moved to town. I always considered it my dream job."

Moss, originally from Cairo, Ill., has a lengthy legal resume in his 25 years of private practice in Cape Girardeau, largely in criminal defense and civil litigation. He pointed to relevant career stints, including periods as an assistant prosecutor under Swingle and as an assistant state's attorney general. Moss, an owner of the law firm Moss & Stillwell, has been a municipal judge in Scott City for 15 years, taught criminal law and procedure at Southeast Missouri State University and instructed future police officers at the Law Enforcement Academy.

Now, he'd like to do what he's always wanted to do -- work each day to put criminals behind bars.

"In private practice, you make a difference in people's lives one client at a time," Moss said. "As prosecutor, you make a difference on a much broader scale. I want my family to be safe and to help others be safe. That's my foremost concern is doing my part to help protect the community."

Whether Moss becomes the 31st chief prosecutor in county history may have less to do with his qualifications than his brand of politics. Moss is a self-described conservative Republican and Nixon, a former Missouri attorney general and Democrat, has yet to appoint a member of the GOP to replace a vacated prosecutor position.

A review of Nixon appointments Thursday revealed he has been asked 14 times to replace a county prosecutor due to resignation, death and after he has moved prosecutors to the bench. From his 2009 pick of Brandi L. Baird in Dent County to his selection in June of Christopher Miller in Ripley County, every appointee has been a Democrat.

But don't expect local lawyers who wear the label of Democrat to be lining up to become prosecutor, according to John Heisserer, who is a lawyer in Cape Girardeau and treasurer of the Democratic Central Committee. Any Democratic lawyer would have to be mindful, Heisserer said, of the difficult task it would be to keep the job beyond the next election in a Republican-rich county.

"Who wants to suspend their law practice only to lose their job in two years?" he asked. "It's very unfortunate that prosecutor is a partisan position. For whatever reason, it is virtually impossible for a Democrat to get elected in this county."

Heisserer knows. In 2003, he was appointed circuit judge by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden to replace John Grimm, who was returning to private practice. It was a job he loved, he said, for the brief time he had it. The next year, Heisserer lost an election bid to Republican Benjamin Lewis.

Moss was mum when asked about the political nature of the job, saying he did not want to speculate about the governor's intentions.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste would say only that the governor's appointments across the board have included Republicans, and that Nixon, as an attorney, understands a prosecutor's role in protecting public safety.

"The governor's office will move to fill this position as quickly as possible," Holste said.

Under Missouri statute, a county prosecutor who leaves office for any reason before the end of a four-year term is replaced by the governor, though no time frame or process allowing for public input is listed. The statutes only require that a prosecutor be at least 21, hold a law license and be a resident of the county for at least 12 months before the appointment.

Leaders of both political parties say they realize the governor has, in other counties, asked for recommendations from each central committee. Members of both committees Thursday said that the mix of politics and the legal profession in this case was problematic. Heisserer said Democrats, despite the risky long-term prospects, would offer names of good candidates.

Holly Lintner, chairwoman of the Cape Girardeau County Republican Central Committee, noted, in general, lawyers tend to be Democrats. She was working on the assumption that Nixon would look within his own party's ranks, and she wasn't sure if Republicans would be asked to participate. But if the governor does, she said, the executive committee has discussed that they will provide some names.

The committee will, at some point, take recommendations from Republican lawyers and submit the strongest candidates to the governor, Lintner said.

Swingle declined to comment on any particular person who may want to take over his job. He did say he has submitted several names to the governor's office.

"It is important to me that they have a good, qualified person," Swingle said. "The former prosecutor, Larry Ferrell, passed that baton off to me 25 years ago and I want to pass it on to someone who will maintain high standards for an office that is so important."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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