JEFFERSON CITY • The former prosecutor set to investigate alleged wrongdoing by former Attorney General Chris Koster’s administration works for a prominent law firm with political connections — including to Koster.
Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, announced Thursday that Hal A. Goldsmith, a partner at the Bryan Cave law firm, would lead an investigation into whether the administration of Koster, a Democrat, improperly withheld evidence when the state and the family of Anthony Lamar Smith negotiated a wrongful death settlement in 2013.
St. Louis police Officer Jason Stockley shot and killed Smith after a high-speed pursuit in 2011. Stockley was acquitted of first-degree murder charges on Sept. 15, sparking ongoing protests throughout the region.
Last week, a Smith family attorney, Albert Watkins, wrote to Hawley and said the state and the city of St. Louis improperly withheld evidence that Stockley’s DNA was the only DNA found on the revolver recovered from Smith’s car. He also said the city and state never disclosed cellphone footage filmed by a witness after the shooting.
Hawley said Thursday Goldsmith would “conduct a thorough and independent investigation” into the allegations and that Goldsmith would have full access to files to “ensure a comprehensive and unbiased review of the alleged wrongdoing.”
According to a Post-Dispatch analysis of Missouri Ethics Commission data, attorneys and others who listed Bryan Cave as their employer donated more than $19,000 to Koster’s failed bid for governor last year. In 2015, they chipped in another $16,000 to the Democrat’s campaign coffers.
Bryan Cave attorneys also donated to Hawley. During his run for attorney general, Hawley received checks in 2015 and 2016 from Bryan Cave attorneys totaling $6,360, records show.
Goldsmith, records show, did not donate to Hawley or Koster’s campaigns in their 2016 bids for office. He also did not donate to Democrat Teresa Hensley, Hawley’s opponent, or Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who beat Koster last year.
He did contribute $256 to the Bryan Cave Missouri PAC last year, and the political action committee did cut checks to Koster and Hawley’s campaigns. But the political action committee in 2016 received donations from more than 50 Bryan Cave employees and distributed contributions to several politicians.
Loree Anne Paradise, deputy chief of staff for Hawley, said it is not uncommon for attorneys and law firms to donate to candidates across the political spectrum.
“Many attorneys from many law firms donated to the Attorney General’s campaign, as well as to the campaigns of rival candidates,” she said in an email.
She also touted Goldsmith’s 20 years of experience as a federal prosecutor and his recent experience as a special prosecutor in a 2015 officer-involved shooting in St. Louis. Goldsmith’s report concluded the police officers who shot and killed 19-year-old Isaac Holmes did so in self-defense.
“Mr. Goldsmith has great credibility across the St. Louis community because of his competence, independence and unbiased judgment,” Paradise said.
She also said Goldsmith agreed to reduced hourly rates and to cap fees at $50,000 unless given prior approval to charge more from the attorney general’s office.
A spokeswoman for Bryan Cave did not return a request for comment on Friday.
Watkins said it is not uncommon for major law firms to be represented in financial reports for political candidates.
Nine Bryan Cave attorneys, for example, contributed a combined $3,750 to Hensley’s campaign in 2016. Two Bryan Cave attorneys donated a combined $8,210 to Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign coffers during his campaign.
Watkins said news that attorneys from the firm donated to Koster does not cast doubt that Goldsmith would lead a thorough investigation.
“Making a campaign contribution, in my opinion, does not in and of itself constitute an action of a nature that would elevate this to a conflict issue,” he said.