This report is part 6 of an investigative series looking into reported corruption in the Missouri Judiciary and family courts. For the rest of the investigation visit the catalog here.
Michael Burton, Saint Louis County presiding judge of the 21st Judicial Circuit Court, has been implementing COVID precautions so severe that county sheriffs are being told not to evict people even if they’re drug-dealing criminals, endangering the lives of Saint Louis County residents, according to eviction attorney Matthew Chase of The Chase Law Firm, PC.
Chase told PJM that Judge Burton is abdicating his responsibility to the citizens of Saint Louis County in favor of keeping his sheriff’s officers “safe” from COVID. Strangely, though, the sheriffs are serving other notices like garnishments and summons’ but they are prohibited by Burton from attaching eviction orders to doors and carrying out executions.
“Judge Burton is acting in a lawless manner and has taken for himself the unlimited power of the COVID,” Chase said.
Chase represents a client who manages a small apartment building that was being terrorized by fentanyl dealers. The manager does not want to be identified but spoke to PJ Media and confirmed that fentanyl dealers were operating in his building on a floor with several senior citizens. One senior, in his late sixties or seventies, had been coerced into letting the dealers rent out a room in his apartment to dangerous strangers.
The management installed cameras to stop the activity but the “renters” started coming through the man’s window from the roof. The manager of the building felt that his senior citizen tenant was being intimidated and coerced by criminals. Chase filed for eviction on the manager’s behalf and received a judgment to evict the dealers from Associate Judge Julia Lasater on January 28, giving them five days to vacate the building.
In order for an eviction to be enforced, however, the sheriffs have to carry out “execution of possession of premises.” Judge Burton, as the presiding judge on the court and the “boss” of sheriffs, refused to have it done. Sheriffs are not elected in St. Louis, but are controlled by the judiciary. Burton’s concern was centered around sheriff’s having to walk through a usually empty residence to check to make sure it was vacated.
On February 2, attorneys working on the case sent this email to Judge Burton.
This matter was called before Division 32 on January 22, 2021 for an Immediate Eviction pursuant to RSMO 441.740.1(4) due to drug-related criminal activity. The Court heard evidence from the Landlord who has received criminal citations as a result of the Defendant’s actions. The Court also heard from the police detective that executed a search warrant on the property and recovered fentanyl.
Judge Lasater found the evidence to be creditable enter the attached order. Further, she stayed that order for five days to allow for the Defendants to get their affairs in order. To date, they have refused to vacate.
I am requesting leave from this Court’s Administrative Order and asking that the Court sign the attached Proposed Order and send the Sherriff to execute.
I understand that this is a large request. Further, I understand the Court’s reasoning behind the administrative order; both the safety of the officers and the concern of mass homelessness during a global pandemic due to the inability to pay rent. However, this case is not rooted in anything financial.
These Defendants are engaged in the sale of fentanyl in an apartment building that has other residents; some of which are children. As you are aware, the human body is highly susceptible to the effects fentanyl and fentanyl can be absorbed into the body via inhalation, oral exposure or ingestion, or skin contact. All of which are commonplace in an apartment building.
Judge Burton denied the request and asked him to wait another month until deputies were vaccinated.
“But when eviction time comes, all sheriff’s deputies have to do is call the local police who are the ones who remove people physically from homes if they don’t go quietly,” Chase told PJM. “In an overwhelming majority of evictions in the state of Missouri, likely above 90%, when the sheriffs arrive the premises are vacant and sheriffs merely have to oversee the landlord changing the locks.” Sheriffs’ contact with people in an eviction is usually very limited. Burton’s response was tone-deaf to the concerns of the citizens suffering criminal intimidation.
I have been doing my best to get our Sheriff’s Office vaccinated before the rest of us in this Courthouse. They are prioritized because they are members of the law enforcement grouping, spelled out by the DHSS. The local Department of Public Health finally agreed with my argument and began scheduling the Sheriff’s Office yesterday. I believe that they are scheduled for next week. By the end of this month, I will definitely look at exceptions to the ban on executions of evictions. Your case certainly sounds like it would be appropriate for such a response. Thanks for your email.
MDB Michael D. Burton
The requesting attorney tried to get around Burton’s refusal by asking to use other law-enforcement officials who were more than willing to oversee the removal of known criminals.
Would this Court be willing to enter an order authorizing “any duly sworn municipal or county law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction in which the premises are located” to execute upon this Court’s Order? (There is precedent for such an action. See RSMO 441.060 (5))
Judge Burton was not willing. He preferred to see fentanyl dealers terrorizing senior citizens and children, who were at risk of crime and exposure to a deadly substance, for another month.
You left off the beginning of the section of the statute. The first part that you omitted is as follows:
If after the rendition of a judgment and a request for an execution on any judgment rendered in an action pursuant to chapter 524, chapter 534, chapter 535, or this chapter and there is no stay of execution, the …….
My administrative order #16 is essentially a stay of execution.
Michael D. Burton
The lawyer responded:
I am not asking to open the flood gates here. I am asking for this Court to authorize the removal of two Defendant’s that pose a substantial risk to other tenants living in the same space. I don’t even need the sheriff, I just need the order.
Merriam-Webster defines exception as “a case to which a rule does not apply”. By the nature of its definition, an exception starts with a single case.
The judge denied him again.
Judge Burton’s refusal to have drug dealers removed from an apartment seems to be about him covering himself for continuing to allow tenants to stay in apartments without paying rent for any reason whatsoever. Chase says Burton’s continued refusal to allow evictions is harming an entire industry of people, from landlords to the secretaries who work for them, all over Saint Louis County.
“Staff, managers, secretaries: they all have to be paid. Property taxes still have to be paid! Garbage fees, water bills, there is no moratorium on those things and my clients have to pay those bills,” said Chase. “And most of the big clients I have that are funded by hedge funds are taking the hit because they don’t want to be the bad guy. But the little guy and the medium-sized guys—they’re drowning.”
The attorneys for the property dealing with the drug dealers kept trying to get Burton to allow them to evict the criminals. A whole month later on March 4, they pleaded with Judge Burton again.
You previously stated that you would look at exceptions to the eviction ban at the end of the month. (February)
I am renewing my request to have these defendants removed from the property. Their continued presence is a threat to the entire building.
I look forward to your response.
Burton denied them again.
Unbeknownst to the attorneys who were struggling with Judge Burton, the client had reached out to police on his own the week of February 26 with a desperate plea for them to help the people in his building suffering as a result of the criminal behavior. Local police stepped in and did what the sheriffs would not. Upon receiving notice of the order delivered by police the dealers left on their own accord on the 27th.
Chase and other attorneys in Saint Louis County are fed up with the antics of Judge Burton.
“It is not nearly the extreme example of the fentanyl dealers or otherwise criminal tenants,” said Chase, describing other situations where tenants are smearing feces on the wall and letting their dogs relieve themselves all over their downstairs neighbors’ balconies. “People are doing terrible things to their neighbors,” said Chase, indicating that Judge Burton couldn’t care less. “There are also, without exaggeration, thousands of tenants against whom judgments have been won dating back to Feb of 2020 for whom Judge Burton has granted seemingly endless immunity from the consequences of not paying the rent. Landlords both large and small and everything in between are being crushed,” Chase told PJM
PJ Media’s previous reporting on Burton shows him engaging in egregious ex parte communications with guardians ad litem and offering to help them in a lawsuit that would be going before his court. This email led to the recusal of the entire 21st Judicial Circuit Court.
If you or someone you know has information about judicial conduct or corruption in Saint Louis County please contact [email protected] and if you are a whistleblower attorney or court professional your identity will be protected.