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Special prosecutor still a no-show in ongoing Bassett-Saunchegrow case

DIXON, Mo. (March 29, 2011) — Following multiple failures of a special prosecutor to show up for court, Malinda Bassett filed a motion Monday asking Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston to remove Michael Ashley Anderson from her case accusing Dale Saunchegrow of twice violating a no-contact order.

Monday’s hearing is the latest in a long string of claims and counterclaims stemming from an April 29 incident in which Arnold Bassett, 68, the owner of Bassett Realty in Dixon, is accused of trying to run over Saunchgrow’s riding lawnmower, leading to Saunchgrow shooting bullets into Bassett’s pickup. Saunchegrow, 58, a retired union worker, claims he needs to access property near Bassett’s land as the designated representative of a private water company. Malinda Bassett is Arnold Bassett’s daughter-in-law and works in the family business.

The Gaston-Anderson situation is complicated by other relationships; Gaston is the Texas County Associate Circuit Judge and Anderson is the son of the Texas County Prosecuting Attorney. All local judges in Pulaski County declined to hear the Bassett-Saunchegrow case and former Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Hooper turned the case over to Anderson, who repeatedly failed to show up in court in Pulaski County, leading to dismissal of most charges by other judges, though the violation of the no-contact order is still pending. Newly elected Pulaski County Prosecutor Kevin Hillman has since asked the state attorney general’s office to step in and review the cases for possible filing of charges, but so far state officials have not done so.

Malinda Bassett’s petition to remove Anderson said she has “repeatedly (at least 22 times) called the special prosecuting attorney’s office to check on the status of the case and to speak to the special prosecuting attorney about the matter” and faxed Anderson’s office on Nov. 22 following a Nov. 19 incident in which she believed the no-contact order had been violated, but “had received no response.”

Gaston tried to settle the situation and suggested that her attorney, Wayne Gifford, might be able to assist.

“I understand your frustration, but will it help for me to ask Mr. Gifford to send him a letter asking to meet with you?” Gaston asked.

“It would, but Mr. Anderson has never shown up for one of these court dates,” Bassett said, noting that she hadn’t even received notices of court hearings and had to find out about them herself by using the CaseNet computerized court record system.

Gaston said there may be reasons for Anderson’s absence.

“A couple of those were done by my permission,” Gaston said. “Mr. Gifford, I want you to send a letter to Mr. Anderson advising him about your client’s rights under the statute for her to meet with him.”

It’s not clear what will happen next. The case is set for an April 26 jury trial before Gaston, but the trial can’t take place if the prosecutor doesn’t show up or file court documents.

Hillman said his options are limited. He can’t control the special prosecutor’s actions and he can’t take the case himself because Arnold Bassett is the father of County Clerk Brent Bassett. Even before Bassett was elected, Hooper had asked for the special prosecutor, citing the then-upcoming Republican Party primary election and noting that she attends Westside Baptist Church where Brent Bassett is a member of the music ministry team.

“As the county prosecutor, I don’t get to appoint that (special prosecutor); that’s appointed by the court,” Hillman said. “I can only make a motion to say I have a conflict… the judge can remove him as prosecutor and appoint a separate special prosecutor. A conflict still exists because this is the family of the county clerk, so if it comes back to me, I’ll make a motion to appoint another special prosecutor.”

Hillman said he doesn’t yet know what the Missouri Attorney General’s office will decide about filing charges against either Arnold Bassett or Dale Saunchegrow in the underlying lawnmower-pickup case.

“I happen to know that they requested some more information on those, so that is an active review process,” Hillman said. “I don’t know whether they would get involved because this is a misdemeanor case or not, or if we would just get another person involved in that.”

Hillman said in his dozen years as a lawyer, he’s never before seen a special prosecutor repeatedly fail to show up for court after warnings by judges and threats to dismiss cases.

“I don’t want to be seen as having input, but I would just want to say that if it were one of my assistant prosecutors, that would not continue,” Hillman said.

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