Reprimanded by state Supreme Court, prosecutor heads toward re-election

Daniel Nichanian

Platte County’s longtime prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd was disciplined this year, just months before he is to face voters in this county north of Kansas City. In 2015, Zahnd oversaw the prosecution of a man who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child. At the sentencing stage, 16 individuals sent letters of support to the court on the man’s behalf. Zahnd’s office then pressured them to withdraw their letters, warning that they would otherwise be exposed for supporting the man. When they didn’t comply, Zahnd released a list of their names and employers. While a judge called this behavior “bullying and intimidation,” Zahnd responds that “transparency” demands that people who “argue for leniency” not do so “outside the public eye.” But a disciplinary panel found Zahnd guilty of misconduct in December 2017; the Missouri Supreme Court then concurred that he had violated ethical rules and issued a reprimand.

Still, this unusual rebuke did not translate into a robust electoral challenge this year. Zahnd, a Republican, sought a fifth term. For the fourth consecutive time, no Democrat filed to run against him. (While Platte County has gone Republican in the past six presidential races, it occasionally votes Democratic in other elections.)

Zahnd did face opposition in the August 7 GOP primary in the form of state Representative Nick Marshall, who has drawn headlines over the years for his staunchly conservative politics. In 2014, Marshall sought to impeach Governor Jay Nixon for recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages. In 2017, he introduced a bill that exposed protesters blocking a street or interstate highway (as Ferguson protesters had recently done) to misdemeanor or felony charges. But Marshall ran a diminished campaign. As of July 23 (three weeks before the primary), he had no campaign website or online platform, and little social media presence. “Has anyone seen or heard from him?” local journalist Ivan Foley asked in a June 28 column. “He seems to have gone MIA.” On August 9, Zahnd easily defeated Marshall.