Attorneys

Messenger: Ethics information inform a narrative as Schmitt provides non-public attorneys to frivolous quest

Mark C. Milton is a tax attorney.

It says so on the website of the Milton Law Group, which cleverly has a phone number that ends in 1040, the name of the Internal Revenue Service form that most of us will soon be filling out as we file our yearly taxes.

Milton used to be one of those guys at the Department of Justice who went after tax scofflaws. Then he switched to the other side, representing businesses and individuals who do battle with the IRS. So, why is a tax attorney joining hands with Attorney General Eric Schmitt to file lawsuits against public school districts in the St. Louis area that have adopted mask mandates?

You might have read about the lawsuits, 45 of them in total, against many, but not all, of the school districts in the state that have continued to require mitigation measures — including masks — to protect students, teachers and other staff members from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Last August, Schmitt tried and failed to sue all the school districts with mask mandates. Now, while hospital systems in Missouri are overwhelmed with patients, he is at it again, this time, with a twist. He’s soliciting parents to join along, and he’s asking a select group of private attorneys, none of whom appear to have particular expertise in school district or public health law, to represent those parents.

Back to the question: Why is a tax attorney joining forces with Schmitt in this politically motivated quest?

The answer appears in the records of the Missouri Ethics Commission, where Milton is the treasurer of nine political action committees. He ran seven others, but they have been terminated. These are committees with conservative sounding political names: Patriot PAC, Freedom’s Promise PAC, Pro-Life Pioneer Fund, Mighty Missouri. As treasurer of the committees, Milton solicits or accepts funding from various donors, and then passes the money on to politicians, or other donors, sometimes moving the money among his various PACs so taxpayers and voters can’t really see who the money came from when it gets to its final recipient. He is paid for his services, about $500 a month from each of the PACs.

The most recent political action committee Milton started is the BB Freedom Fund. In its paperwork, the PAC says it exists to support the candidacy of Ben Brown, who is running for the state Senate. Milton set up that committee on Jan. 13. A few days later, Schmitt sent an email to public school parents in a variety of school districts in the St. Louis area, asking if they would like to join the state’s lawsuits. In the email, he told the parents their personal lawyer would be Milton. Schmitt included Milton’s email address.

So what does this have to do with Brown? When he’s not running for the state senate, Brown is the owner of Satchmo’s Bar & Grill in Chesterfield, one of the businesses that last year was involved in a lawsuit against the state Department of Health and Senior Services, arguing that the department had no authority to grant local health departments the ability to impose health orders during a pandemic.

Schmitt, in his role as attorney general, was representing DHSS in that lawsuit. He lost, perhaps on purpose. Then he refused to appeal the ruling, which was dubious at best, according to health care law experts. Now Schmitt is spending a tremendous amount of time seeking to enforce the ruling, specifically through lawsuits against cities, counties and, now, school districts.

He will likely lose most, if not all, of them, as he did when he previously sued the school districts, and as he did last week against St. Louis County. But that’s not really the point. Schmitt isn’t trying to make a point about the law, or dead school principals, or kids in the ICU. He is trying to get his face on Fox News. By the time any of these lawsuits would actually make it before a judge, the COVID-19 surge caused by the omicron variant will likely have dissipated, some schools will have dropped their mask requirement, and those lawsuits will become moot.

But before that happens, let’s slow down and connect the dots: Missouri’s attorney general, who is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate on an anti-mandate platform, lost a lawsuit to Ben Brown, refused to appeal it, then solicited parents to join a different lawsuit against their school districts, with Brown’s political fundraiser as their personal attorney.

That’s some questionable lawyering, at the very least. But the end result is that taxpayers are now on the hook, both for Schmitt’s expenses as he files frivolous lawsuits, and for the school districts as they battle Schmitt in court for the right to keep our children and their teachers safe from a deadly virus.

It makes me wonder: Is there a way for a taxpayer to deduct those expenses forced upon us by an overly ambitious state attorney general? If only Milton would return my phone call, I could ask him.

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