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At the March 17 Republican gubernatorial debate in Columbia, candidate Catherine Hanaway told an audience that she prosecuted more than 4,000 cases during her tenure as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri.
Hanaway served as a federal prosecutor from July 20, 2005, through April 17, 2009, which means that she would have had to prosecute at least three cases a day on average to make that 4,000-case benchmark.
That seemed like a lot of cases, so we looked at the record.
Hanaway’s history in public life
While many Missourians may know Hanaway as the first female speaker of the House in Missouri, she is also a decorated prosecutor who’s worked in both the private and public sectors. In 2005, Hanaway left her position as speaker after being appointed U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri by former President George W. Bush. In 2009, Hanaway resigned and joined the Ashcroft Law Firm, founded by former Missouri governor, senator and U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft.
As a side note, in 2013, Missouri Lawyer’s Media listed Hanaway as the most expensive lawyer to hire in Missouri at a rate of upward to $793 an hour. Hanaway said at the time that most of the firm’s clients were large national and international companies, and "our rates are reflective of that." Hanaway joined Husch Blackwell’s St. Louis office in 2013.
Her federal prosecution history
Will Scharf, Hanaway’s policy director, said as a U.S. attorney, Hanaway was "directly responsible for federal prosecutions across half the state, signing every federal indictment initiating formal proceedings against criminals within the district, and supervising prosecutions as they progressed."
It’s unclear how many of these cases she prosecuted personally. She oversaw a staff of more than 100 people, as Hanaway makes clear on her campaign website.
According to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri’s online Case Management/Electronic Case Files system, which tracks criminal case filings for the court, Hanaway’s office filed at least 5,430 cases during her stint as a federal prosecutor.
That doesn’t include cases inherited by Hanaway from her predecessors. So it could be argued that Hanaway actually dealt with even more than 5,430 cases.
Scharf also noted in an email interview that Hanaway never claimed to be "lead counsel" or that she "tried 4,000 cases," and that the notion that she could physically be there to prosecute 4,000 cases "would be absurd, since 95 percent of criminal cases end in a guilty plea without a trial." That percentage of plea bargains is in line with a 2011 Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate.
Hanaway told an audience that she prosecuted over 4,000 cases during her time as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri.
Based on federal data, Hanaway’s office dealt with well over 4,000 cases and each case required her personal signature.
Her words might suggest that she handled each case herself, but most listeners would understand that she ran a large office. We rate this statement True.
Email interview with Will Scharf on March 30 and April 18.
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