The judge hearing a petition against Franklin County Prosecutor Robert Parks is taking arguments from a motion to dismiss under advisement.
Judge Darrell Missey, of Jefferson County, on Thursday heard arguments from Michael A. Benner, attorney for the organization “Justice for Ken, et al.” and Mary Zastrow-Hiatt, assistant county counselor representing Parks and Franklin County.
The judge was appointed to hear the writ of mandamus petitioning the courts to remove Parks from the three criminal cases filed in the homicide of Kenneth Allen Jr., 70, who died Nov. 3, 2016, during a burglary at his Washington area home.
The writ is being heard in Franklin County Circuit Court.
Judge Missey noted he will reach a decision on the motion to dismiss as “promptly” as he can.
“This is going to be a very academic and technical legal decision I have to make,” he said.
Missey added he will read case law and his decision could set precedent for writs of mandamus filed against prosecuting attorneys.
The writ — a written command from a court to an individual or entity to perform a public duty — was filed in February by “Justice for Ken, et al.” The relators for the writ are Allen’s daughter, Kathy Allen and Vincent Bandermann, a county resident.
The writ petitions the courts to remove Parks from the cases for Timothy D. Wonish, 32, Whitney D. Robins, 29, and Blake S. Schindler, 18. They are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Ken Allen’s death.
A hearing in the criminal case is set for May 17.
Benner told the judge that the writ was “brought on by the public” because Parks was not fulfilling the “duty of his office.”
In the writ, it alleges that Parks “outright lied to third parties.” It claims that Parks “lied” to the family of the victim about the cause of Ken Allen’s death, and the time that the suspects would serve.
It also alleges that Parks’ office did not inform the family of the victim about bond reduction hearings.
The writ further states Parks was in “neglect of his duties” by offering the defendants new plea deals after previous deals were rejected.
“This case is so beyond belief that the prosecutor is still involved,” Benner said.
The petition also alleges a conflict of interest due to a lawsuit filed in August 2016 by Ken Allen, Jan Allen and Meramec Recovery Center Inc.
That suit was dropped in December 2016 at the request of the plaintiffs.
The suit did not name Parks, but it named former assistant prosecuting attorney Jennifer Bartlett.
According to Zastrow-Hiatt, there is no conflict of interest because Parks was not named in the lawsuit filed by Ken Allen, and his former employee was not working at the prosecutor’s office when Allen was killed.
She contends that a writ of mandamus only is appropriate if there is a direct conflict of interest, for example, if Parks had represented the defendants or had some other type of relationship.
Zastrow-Hiatt also stated the writ does not establish any legal duty for Parks to be disqualified from the case.
“There is no duty for Mr. Parks to disqualify himself from the case, therefore the mandamus cannot exist,” she said.
She noted that a more appropriate course for Justice for Ken would be a complaint to the Missouri Bar Association, however, she does not advocate for that.
“That is a remedy allowed to them other than a writ of mandamus,” she said.
In response to the claims that the writ of mandamus is brought “by the people,” Zastrow-Hiatt said there already is recourse for residents of the county.
“Mr. Parks’ client is the state,” Zastrow-Hiatt added. “The public has a remedy — that is an election — they have voted for Mr. Parks as he is.”
She further contends that the court hearing the writ of mandamus has no authority to decide how suspects should be charged, or if charges should be dismissed.
The suspects were indicted last year by a Franklin County grand jury on the charges of felony murder, first-degree burglary and receiving stolen property in the death of Ken Allen.
Under a plea deal they each would have served 10 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections on the burglary charge, and seven years on the reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter, which would have run concurrently. The receiving stolen property charge would have been dismissed.
The plea deals were rejected by former Circuit Judge Gael D. Wood in October 2017.
In January, the suspects agreed to a plea deal that dismisses a first-degree burglary charge if the defendants plead guilty to Class C felonies of receiving stolen property and involuntary manslaughter. Under the deal, the suspects would each serve two seven-year concurrent terms.
Since then, the burglary and receiving stolen property charges have been dropped and the defendants now are only charged with involuntary manslaughter.
That deal was rejected by Circuit Judge Craig Hellmann, who was assigned to the case in December 2017. Later in January, Hellmann also recused himself.