News & Politics

St. Louis Media Finally Breaks Its Wall of Silence on Massive Judicial Scandal—But Still Manages to Water it Down (UPDATED)

This report is part 21 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.

After months of PJ Media’s reporting on the judicial scandals happening in St. Louis, Mo., including one of the biggest judicial recusals in American history (if not the biggest), the dam of media silence is breaking. When the entire 21st Circuit Court had to recuse itself from a lawsuit after presiding judge Michael Burton sent ex-parte emails promising to “help” the defendant any way he could, the St. Louis media were totally silent. Even when Burton resigned at the height of his career with no explanation except wanting to do some self-discovery by taking a leadership class at Notre Dame in Indiana, not one local media outlet reported on the scandal surrounding his exit.

Until now. 

Burton is leaving at a time when he is accused of sending an ex-parte email involving immigration attorney Evita Tolu and court insiders, according to media reports. Tolu’s complaint alleges that a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), a psychologist, and a social worker drained her finances in family court litigation and gave custody of her children to their alleged abuser. Tolu practices law in Florida, Missouri, and Hawaii.

The St. Louis Record, according to locals, is the paper that only the legal community reads. The St. Louis Dispatch has only reported pro-Burton propaganda that reads like it was written by a public relations firm.

Joel Currier a, St. Louis Dispatch reporter who was notified multiple times about Burton’s unbelievable email showing extreme bias toward a defendant, never mentioned it in his reporting.

Burton will give up an annual salary of at least $171,000 to join the self-exploration program, which costs an estimated $53,000 per participant. He was appointed to the circuit bench in 1999 by then-Gov. Mel Carnahan. He became presiding judge for the 21st Circuit in March 2020.

“I looked at the fact that I’ve been on the bench a considerable time and I’ve had a lot of great opportunities that I feel I’ve really been fortunate to have,” Burton said. “And I kept thinking in the back of my head that I wanted to do something different, but I really wasn’t able to figure out for sure what that would be.”

Currier allowed Burton to spin his resignation as if he had just decided he doesn’t want to be a judge anymore and stepping down had nothing to do with the outrage over the email that he wrote, which looks a lot like case-fixing. While the St. Louis Record at least linked to PJ Media’s reporting and had a terrific headline, “St. Louis Judge Michael Burton leaves the bench for leadership program after ex-parte allegation,” they couldn’t bring themselves to include the actual text of the email from Burton that led to the entire Circuit Court of Saint Louis County having to recuse itself in disgrace.

Related: St. Louis County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Michael Burton Resigns!

In the email, Burton called the allegations in Tolu’s lawsuit “scurrilous,” “horrible,” “gossip,” and called parents who are complaining about the family court process “toxic,” and “unhinged” while calling the guardians under fire “independent, diligent, responsible and compassionate.” He also admitted to holding meetings with bar organizations to discuss the allegations in Tolu’s case. None of this behavior is legal as it relates to pending litigants in his court. The full text of the email can be read in PJ Media’s full and uncensored report on Burton’s resignation. 

While it’s heartening that at least one local media source has let some of the truth leak into its reporting, the questions should be asked: Why did they go to such lengths to conceal the details while interviewing only people who praise Burton? Why didn’t the St. Louis Record reach out to the parents who suffered under Burton’s court to offer their opinions on him and the 21st Circuit Court? Instead, the St. Louis Record interviewed Judge Lisa Page, who praised the system that is widely criticized and accused of massive corruption by members of the public forced to endure its judgments.

“The St. Louis County bench is exceptional,” Page said. “He is leaving a hole just because he’s a leader, he’s a good person and he’s got so much experience but I have absolute faith that the judges in St. Louis County are going to make sure that the courts continue to function like they always have.”

Tolu told PJ Media that the St. Louis Record and reporter Juliette Fairley never reached out to her for her comments on Burton’s sudden departure.

Fairley never reached out to me.  I reached out to the Record several times to no avail.  Press should strive to discuss both sides of the story.  That did not happen with the article about Judge Burton. Did the Record even ask Burton why he attempted to bias the entire legal community in Saint Louis against my lawsuit?

PJ Media reached out to the St. Louis Record for a response but received no answer by the time of publishing.

There is little doubt that with the media in St. Louis refusing to speak truth to power and only reporting the government’s point of view, the courts absolutely will continue to function “like they always have.” This is bad news for the citizens being ground through the wheels of “justice” in Missouri family courts.

UPDATE: Two hours after PJ Media sent an inquiry to the Record as to why they did not contact Tolu, Tolu received this request from Fairley.

If you or someone you know has suffered in the Missouri court system, email [email protected]