Politics

Federal Judge Recommended by Claire McCaskill Fines Her Republican Opponent

Court order by Obama-appointed judge turned into Democrat political attack

Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Claire McCaskill / Getty Images

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) is touting a court order criticizing her Republican opponent. But the order was written by a federal judge who was personally recommended for the position by McCaskill and whose husband has contributed thousands to the Missouri Democrat.

The news of Judge Audrey Fleissig's decision to fine Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley $500 over a document discovery dispute was first reported by left-leaning St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger, who used the court order to scold Hawley, a Republican running to unseat McCaskill, to "do your job." McCaskill's campaign quickly capitalized on the order.

"[Hawley's] office has even been fined by a federal judge for failing to do the most basic work of the Attorney General's office," the campaign said in a release linking to Messenger's piece. "Hawley has been effectively told ‘do your job' after repeatedly failing to meet simple deadlines."

Unmentioned in the column are Fleissig's deep ties to McCaskill, who officially recommended Fleissig to former President Barack Obama for the federal court seat after personally interviewing her, according to an official Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

"This is a woman I have known for many years who has an outstanding career in the legal community in Missouri," McCaskill said in a floor speech ahead of Fleissig's confirmation vote. "It was an honor to recommend her to the president."

"I know that she will be impartial," she said. "I know that she will never let politics dictate a decision."

McCaskill's campaign did not respond to an inquiry into whether ties to Fleissig were considered before deciding to turn the court order into a political attack.

While Fleissig has never contributed to McCaskill—her only federal contribution was $250 to a Democratic Senate candidate in 2000—her husband, Bruce Fleissig, has contributed to each of McCaskill's three senate campaigns, including $1,250 for her current race against Hawley.

Bruce Fleissig's first contribution to McCaskill was $1,000 in 2005. He gave a total of $2,850 to her 2006 campaign and followed that up with $2,250 for her 2012 reelection fight.

Hawley immediately responded to Fleissig's order, calling for the decision to fine his office $500 to be reconsidered.

"The Attorney General's Office has filed a Motion to Reconsider the award of sanctions in this case," said Hawley's deputy chief of staff Loree Anne Paradise. "As stated in our Motion to Reconsider, we believe that the dispute arose from our attorney's good-faith misinterpretation of the discovery order at issue, not from any lack of diligence or bad faith on his part."

Fleissig is yet to rule on Hawley's motion, which offers his explanation for the delay in discovery and can be viewed here. Her office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The lawsuit in question is by a photographer who was arrested during a 2012 political protest and is suing the St. Louis police, which was at the time controlled by the state.

Hawley is viewed as the clear frontrunner in the Republican race to face McCaskill in November. He was elected attorney general in 2016.