Missouri Lawyers Weekly Names David M. Duree Influential Appellate Attorney for 2023

Mar 12 2024      On Behalf of  David M. Duree & Associates, P.C.      Civil Rights And Consumer Protection

Every year, Missouri Lawyers Weekly recognizes the distinguished work of attorneys throughout the state. Attorney David M. Duree has been named Influential Appellate Attorney for 2023 for his work in case State ex rel. Grooms v. Privette, where he represented a circuit court clerk against the judge for whom she worked. 

This prestigious honor demonstrates Attorney Duree’s continued commitment to the people of Missouri and the rule of law. 

The Issue

Oregon County Circuit Court Clerk Becky Grooms was tasked to create a spreadsheet of certain criminal justice costs for Judge Steven A. Privette of the 37th Judicial Circuit. However, Grooms’ attempts at satisfying the judge were unsuccessful. 

After two failed attempts, the judge ordered Grooms to appear before the court to show why she should not be held in contempt. Grooms responded with a third attempt at the assignment, which was also deemed to be unsatisfactory. As such, the prosecutor in the case charged Grooms with contempt of court.  

Grooms’ Initial Response

Grooms sought to have Judge Privette removed from the case and to have the case dismissed, both of which were denied by Judge Privette. Grooms’ next step was to petition for a writ of mandamus and prohibition from the court of appeals, upon which the court of appeals issued a stay in the contempt matter. 

The court of appeals also ordered Judge Privette to respond with an answer as to why they should not grant Grooms’ petition. The court of appeals eventually ruled against Grooms, who would then petition the Missouri Supreme Court for relief.

Attorney Duree’s Approach

The principal issue at hand was whether Judge Privette exceeded his authority when he sought contempt of court charges against Grooms. Attorney Duree argued that Judge Privette did not have the authority to levy these charges in this case. 

Contempt charges, Attorney Duree asserted, are reserved for cases where the judicial function is integrally threatened — and that failing to properly complete a costs spreadsheet hardly involves an integral threat to judicial function.

The argument against Attorney Duree’s position was that the cost spreadsheet duties are in fact essential to judicial function. Judge Privette’s team also argued that these duties are statutorily imposed and must have some mechanism of enforcement, and the use of a contempt charge falls under that umbrella. 

The Decision of the Court

Unfortunately for Judge Privette, the Supreme Court justices sided with Attorney Duree. They held that although the cost spreadsheet is indeed the legal responsibility of the clerk, a judge may not use a contempt charge to punish non-compliance. 

Additionally, the court was careful to remark that their opinion on this case should not be construed to imply that judges have no authority over clerks and clerk duties. Judge Privette had every legal authority to demand competent work from Grooms. However, contempt charges went too far, especially when other legal avenues were available. 

This case was notable because it helped to further define the limits and powers of the judiciary. Attorney Duree delved deep into Missouri precedent to faithfully defend his client against judicial overreach.

Your Rights Deserve Protection

Your civil rights are numerous and deserve full protection under the law. If you have experienced a rights violation in any context, an experienced civil rights attorney can help you get the justice you deserve.