Eastern District of Missouri
The Eastern District of Missouri is one of the original federal judicial districts established in the United States. Based in St. Louis, this district court has a long and storied history dating back over 165 years. The Eastern District has presided over many prominent federal cases and its judges have shaped the development of case law over the decades. This article will provide an overview of the Eastern District, its history, organization, judges, facilities and some of the most significant cases handled by the court.
Overview and History of the Eastern District
Formation and Jurisdiction
The Eastern District of Missouri was created on March 3, 1857 by Congress. It was one of the first two federal judicial districts established in Missouri, along with the Western District. The Eastern District comprises the eastern half of the state and holds court in three divisions – Eastern, Northern and Southeastern. It has jurisdiction over 45 counties in eastern and southeast Missouri.
The court has original jurisdiction over federal civil and criminal matters that occur within its boundaries. This includes cases involving federal laws, the U.S. Constitution and controversies between states or U.S. citizens living in different states. The Eastern District holds both jury and bench trials for criminal and civil matters in its District Court.
Court Locations and Divisions
The Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse in downtown St. Louis houses the main District Court and Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern Division. It is located at 111 S. 10th Street. The historic courthouse was built in 1933 and named after U.S. Senator Thomas Eagleton in 2000.
Additional district courtrooms are located in the Rush Hudson Limbaugh, Sr. United States Courthouse in Cape Girardeau for the Southeastern Division and the United States Courthouse in Hannibal for the Northern Division. Each division covers distinct counties within the Eastern District.
District Court Judges
There are currently five federal district court judges presiding in the Eastern District of Missouri. They each serve lifetime appointments after being nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The current judges are:
- Chief Judge Ronnie L. White
- Judge John A. Ross
- Judge Henry E. Autrey
- Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr.
- Judge Sarah E. Pitlyk
In addition, there are two magistrate judges who handle preliminary criminal proceedings and civil trial preparations. They are Magistrate Judge Nannette A. Baker and Magistrate Judge David D. Noce.
Over its long history, the Eastern District has been home to many prominent federal judges. Notable past judges include Judge George Howard, Jr. who in 1980 ordered St. Louis schools to desegregate through busing. Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Sr. served as a district judge prior to his son’s appointment.
Other famous judges include Judge John F. Nangle who presided over the court-martial of the Bataan Death March commander during World War II and Judge William Hungate who oversaw the grand jury investigation of President Nixon’s Watergate coverup.
Federal Prosecutions and Notable Cases
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri prosecutes federal criminal cases and represents the United States in civil matters within the district. The office frequently handles high profile prosecutions, especially related to public corruption, corporate fraud and organized crime. Some of the most famous cases through the decades include:
- Former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger pled guilty to federal corruption charges in 2019 related to a pay-to-play scheme.
- Former St. Louis Alderman Jeffrey Boyd was convicted in 2022 for taking bribes from small business owners.
- Democratic State Senator John Bowman was indicted and convicted for buying votes in the 1982 primary election.
White Collar Crime
- St. Louis hedge fund manager Martin Sigillito was convicted in 2009 of running a $8.7 million Ponzi scheme.
- David Kircher of Centene Corp was convicted of securities fraud and embezzlement in 2018, stealing over $7 million.
- In 2013, the Archdiocese of St. Louis entered a settlement with the EEOC for firing a woman after revealing her breast cancer diagnosis.
- Reputed St. Louis mafia leader Anthony Giordano was indicted and convicted on racketeering charges in 1980.
- Michael Pendleton, leader of the Pendleton drug trafficking organization, was convicted on federal drug distribution charges.
Other High Profile Cases
- Beau Brindley, a Chicago defense attorney, was convicted of contempt of court in 2008 after a profane courtroom outburst.
- Members of the extremist group “The Base” pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in 2020 after an undercover sting operation.
Courthouse Security and U.S. Marshals Service
The United States Marshals Service (USMS) is responsible for security and law enforcement in the Eastern District, including protecting federal judges, transporting prisoners and apprehending fugitives. The USMS District Office is located inside the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse in St. Louis.
There are currently over 60 Deputy U.S. Marshals assigned to the Eastern District of Missouri. They play a critical role in ensuring safe and secure judicial proceedings. The USMS works closely with the District Court security team and Federal Protective Service police.
Federal Public Defender’s Office
Indigent defendants charged with federal crimes in the Eastern District are entitled to legal representation by the Federal Public Defender’s Office. The office has over 30 attorneys who defend felony, misdemeanor and appellate cases across the district’s divisions. In 2020, the Federal Public Defender closed 4,893 cases in the Eastern District of Missouri.
The Eastern District also has a Bankruptcy Court which handles bankruptcy proceedings filed under federal law. There are four bankruptcy judges who preside in the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse. The Bankruptcy Court recorded 10,392 bankruptcy case filings for the 12-month period ending March 2022. Consumer filings made up the vast majority of cases.
For over 165 years, the Eastern District of Missouri has served an important role in the federal judiciary. It has adjudicated many historic criminal and civil cases that have impacted local communities and even the nation. The district court continues to take on complex federal cases with its team of experienced judges and court staff across its three divisions. The Eastern District’s long legacy and central location in St. Louis will ensure it remains a prominent venue for federal litigation for years to come.
How many district court judges currently serve in the Eastern District of Missouri?
There are five district court judges and two magistrate judges currently serving in the Eastern District of Missouri.
What was a significant civil rights case for the Eastern District?
In 2013, the Archdiocese of St. Louis entered a settlement agreement after being sued for firing a woman shortly after she revealed her breast cancer diagnosis.
What famous mafia leader was prosecuted in the Eastern District?
Anthony Giordano, a longtime leader of the St. Louis mafia, was indicted and convicted on federal racketeering charges in the Eastern District in 1980.
Who was the federal judge that ordered desegregation busing in St. Louis schools?
In 1980, Judge George F. Gunn Jr. of the Eastern District issued a landmark ruling requiring St. Louis schools to desegregate through extensive busing of students.
How many bankruptcy judges preside in the Eastern District?
There are four bankruptcy judges who preside over bankruptcy proceedings filed in the Eastern District of Missouri.