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Judge denies Caruthers’ motions

A motion to disqualify the St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office from the case against the Bonne Terre man charged with the 2016 murder of Michael VanStavern was denied by Circuit Judge Wendy Wexler Horn on Thursday.

During a special hearing Thursday morning, Anthony Caruthers’ defense attorney Ramona Gau presented two motions related to events surrounding a mental health exam that was performed upon Caruthers in May of this year.

According to the defense’s motion, court documents and argument Thursday, Judge Horn had granted a motion filed by St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin in early May, ordering a mental examination be performed on Caruthers.

On May 10, a stop-order signed by Presiding Judge Colleen Dolan was issued by the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, ordering a stop on the previously-ordered mental health exam, which was scheduled for the next day, May 11.

Despite the issuing of the stay-order, Caruthers was still transported to St. Louis by the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department on May 11 and was interviewed by a doctor with the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

After confirming the interview had taken place, Gau filed a motion to disqualify the prosecutor’s office from the case and to cite Mahurin for contempt of court.

Before the motion to disqualify Mahurin from the case was heard, Judge Horn heard argument regarding a separate motion from Gau to quash a subpoena issued by Mahurin.

The subpoena in question had been issued to the office manager at Gau’s law firm, with instruction to appear, provide testimony and “any evidence” that she might be in possession of regarding the motion to disqualify Mahurin from the case.

Mahurin explained that after the stop-order had been issued by the Missouri Court of Appeals, his office had been notified by Gau’s office manager via email that the order had been handed down and that a copy of the order had been faxed to the doctor who was scheduled to perform Caruthers’ mental examination — though the fax never reached the doctor.

In subpoenaing Gau’s office manager, Mahurin said he only intended to question her regarding whether or not she had indeed sent the email, to demonstrate to the court that his office had reason to believe that the stop-order had been sufficiently communicated to the Department of Mental Health.

Judge Horn said she saw no problem with subpoenaing the individual for testimony regarding the email, but she said the section of the subpoena containing the words “any evidence” seemed overly broad. Horn said she would quash that portion of the subpoena but uphold the rest.

It was then suggested that a short recess should be taken, at which time Gau and Mahurin could confer and submit a joint-exhibit stipulation, whereby each would acknowledge the validity, authenticity and existence of email records. After the recess, Mahurin and Gau submitted the joint-exhibit to Judge Horn.

Next, Judge Horn took up the motion to disqualify Mahurin from the case and to hold him in contempt. Gau argued that despite the fact that her staff faxed the stop-order to the Department of Mental Health and had made Mahurin’s office aware of that fact, the prosecutor’s office should have taken further steps to make sure a transport to the mental examination and the examination itself did not take place as ordered by the court of appeals.

Gau said it was not a question of whether Mahurin and his staff had done anything wrong, but whether the oversight, either by “willful inaction or gross systematic failure,” could create the appearance of impropriety to the public.

In her motion, Gau cited several court opinions that established the necessity of the public’s ability to be confident in its judicial system in ensuring that such matters are handled correctly. She argued that Mahurin had a duty to ensure the mental examination did not go forward as planned.

Mahurin responded by arguing that he and his staff had every reason to believe that the mental examination would not be executed after being informed by Gau’s office that the stop-order had been faxed to the doctor responsible for the examination.

He further said that he and his office is under no duty to duplicate efforts, namely to inform the doctor of the stop-order after Gau’s office already had. Gau also suggested that there was some question as to whether the information garnered in the interview of Caruthers had been communicated in the days following the examination.

Mahurin said that it generally takes months to receive a formal report from a mental examination and he had had no conversation with the interviewing doctor following the interview. He argued that disqualifying his office and finding him in contempt for the reasons suggested by Gau would be inappropriate, but that the appropriate remedy would be for the evidence garnered in the interview to be formally excluded from the trial.

Judge Horn pointed out that that particular remedy had actually already been provided in the court of appeal’s decision.

The judge said that while she wished Mahurin’s office would have followed up with the doctor in order to avoid this situation, she could not take the position that it was wholly unreasonable for Mahurin and his staff to assume that the doctor had been made aware of the stop-order or that there had been any willful violation on Mahurin’s part.

She overruled Gau’s motion to disqualify Mahurin from the case or to find him in contempt, saying that the issue had been taken care of by the court of appeals.

Gau pointed out that within her motion, she asks for the records from Caruthers’ interview to be turned over to either her office or the court by the Department of Mental Health. She said since the material was obtained unlawfully and could not be used in court, the department should not maintain the material.

A present attorney for the Department of Mental Health was consulted, saying that the documents could certainly be turned over to the court, though they could not be destroyed by the department without a court order.

It was agreed by all parties that the Department of Mental Health would turn the materials over to the court, at which time Gau would have the opportunity to review the materials while Horn deliberated and discussed with counsel about what to do with them.

Caruthers

Caruthers

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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