Former prosecutor weighs in on successor Limbaugh

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
A crowd attending a swearing-in ceremony for new officeholders at the Cape Girardeau County Administration Building on Dec. 31, 2012, in Jackson, recognizes Chris Limbaugh, right, who was appointed Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney. (Laura Simon)

After Morley Swingle decided in November to end his 25-year career as Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney, he made a list of lawyers he considered suitable replacements.

Three of Swingle's assistants were on it, along with one who worked for Swingle's Scott City counterpart. Swingle, a longtime Republican, even recommended a Democratic defense lawyer that he respected.

"It was a fine group of young lawyers," Swingle said.

When someone who wasn't on his list expressed interest, Swingle alerted Gov. Jay Nixon's office to see if he could add one more. On Tuesday Swingle publicly weighed in for the first time on the selection of Chris Limbaugh.

"I think it's a good choice," Swingle said in a telephone interview from Washington D.C., where he and Jack Koester were preparing for oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court set for this morning.

Morley Swingle

Limbaugh, Swingle said, brings many intangibles to the job that would be hard to find in any lawyer with a different last name. Limbaugh, who also has a radio talk-show cousin of some note, will have several places to turn for advice.

Swingle especially appreciates that Limbaugh should never be forced into political debt by special interests. His popular last name, Swingle said, should allow him to have the position for as long as he wants it. The family's wealth also should mean he won't owe favors to those who give him campaign dollars.

"He will always be able to do what he thinks is the right thing," Swingle said. "It's an ideal thing for a prosecutor, not to have to accept a bunch of political contributions."

Swingle defended the one big criticism that has been lobbed at Limbaugh -- his relative inexperience, pointing out that he graduated law school less than two years ago.

"I told him I got 10 jury trials in the first 18 months," Swingle said. "You can teach trial experience, but you can't teach good judgment. Chris has that."

Limbaugh was flattered by his predecessor's high praise.

"I can't really describe it in words what that means," Limbaugh said. "It's my office now, but it will always be in some ways Morley's office."

Limbaugh was in his fifth day on the job Tuesday after being sworn in by his father, federal judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., in a private ceremony at the Cape Girardeau federal building that bears the name of his great-grandfather.

Limbaugh has spent his first few days observing, trying to pick up the way the office works. As he said before his appointment, Limbaugh said he's been heavily reliant on the assistant prosecutors.

"I've found it to be most humble to the already great experience this staff has," Limbaugh said.

Swingle, who now is a federal prosecutor, wasn't the only one who heaped praise on Limbaugh. Two former colleagues who worked closely with Chris Limbaugh at the Limbaugh Firm said the public need not worry about the job being in good hands.

Curt Poore, a former federal prosecutor who works at the Limbaugh firm, worked with the new prosecutor on several criminal cases.

Chris Limbaugh can handle himself in the courtroom, Poore said while noting that he's especially talented at presenting an argument.

"Whether his name is Limbaugh or Smith, he is going to be totally dedicated to doing a great job," Poore said.

John Grimm, a former judge and son of a judge, said coming from a family of lawyers means that Chris Limbaugh knows more than most of the ones just two years out of law school.

"Just like the kid whose dad is an auto mechanic, that kid grows up knowing about auto mechanics," Grimm said. "It's the same thing for those of us who grew up in legal families."

The pressures of his famous last name won't be a detriment, Grimm said. Limbaugh no doubt realized that when he came back to Cape Girardeau, Grimm said he would face high expectations. Grimm said he understands that can be a challenge.

Limbaugh is well grounded and has had a good upbringing, he said.

"He knows that he's been given a lot of responsibility," Grimm said. "I have no doubt that he's got the desire and the ability to handle that."

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