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Green Party sues Secretary of State's office

August 30, 2000
By: Katy Scott
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Green Party's candidate for Attorney General has filed suit in Cole County against the Secretary of State to get on the Missouri ballot.

The Secretary of State's office notified the Roman Catholic nun, Sister Maryann McGivern, last week that she was not approved as a candidate because she was not a lawyer.

"She's not licensed to practice law in the state of Missouri," said Debbie Cheshire, director of elections.

Because of that, the secretary of state's office contends, McGivern cannot run for Attorney General. Her attorney, Henry Robertson, however, disagrees.

"There is no requirement in the (Missouri) constitution or any statute that the Attorney General has to be a licensed attorney," he said.

Although such a requirement is not specifically stated, staff for the Secretary of State argue there are implications that such a requirement exists.

"It's very clear, our belief is, that in order to carry out the duties of the Attorney General, you have to be an attorney," said Jim Grebing, the Secretary of State's chief spokesman. "The Attorney General is required to appear on behalf of the state in the court of appeals and in the Supreme Court...The attorney general needs to be able to go into court."

Robertson said McGivern could perform the duties of an Attorney General without a degree because attorneys general often do not actually appear in court, but rather assign their underlings to such duties.

But Grebing said Missouri law requires that the Attorney General's assistants have the same qualifications of the Attorney General and, in McGivern's case, that would be no law license and, thus, no right to represent the state in court.

Because the election is fast approaching and many areas will begin printing ballots as soon as next week, Robertson said he is hoping to get the issue resolved in court as soon as possible.

Robertson said the state is hiring outside council since Attorney General Jay Nixon's office, which would normally represent the secretary of state's office, has a conflict of interest because Nixon -- who is a lawyer -- is running for re-election.

Robertson conceded that as far as he can determine, Missouri always has had a lawyer as an attorney general.