After judge calls prosecution office a 'rudderless ship of chaos,' its leader resigns

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St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Photo from the city of St. Louis website.

“Embattled” is a word that multiple news stories have used to describe St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who announced her resignation Thursday, after she was accused of mismanaging her office by the state attorney general and contempt of court by a frustrated judge.

Gardner will resign June 1, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will appoint her successor.

The judge who criticized Gardner, Judge Michael Noble, appointed a special prosecutor to pursue a contempt case against Gardner and one of her attorneys after neither showed up for an assault trial and a subsequent hearing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week.

Courthouse News Service also has coverage.

Gardner’s office appears to be a “rudderless ship of chaos,” Noble said.

Over nearly a two-month period, nearly a third of Gardner’s staff resigned, according to another story by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Another prosecutor in Gardner’s office died in a car crash Wednesday evening, KSDK reported.

A different judge, meanwhile, allowed Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey to pursue seven counts in his 10-count lawsuit seeking to remove Gardner for willfully neglecting her office, KMOV reports.

In the decision issued Tuesday, Judge John Torbitzky said all but three counts raise a reasonable inference that Gardner intentionally failed to perform duties that include prosecuting cases, making charging decisions, keeping victims informed, and making sure defendants get a speedy trial.

In fairness to Gardner, “there is also an inference to be made that these are isolated incidents, divorced from one another, simply strung together in an attempt to make a case,” Torbitzky said.

Gardner, a progressive Democrat, previously said the attempt to oust her is politically motivated. Torbitzky was replaced at Gardner’s request Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, Bailey filed subpoenas seeking records of Gardner’s current enrollment in an advanced nursing program at Saint Louis University. The state attorney general is also seeking records from a health care clinic about hours that Gardner may have worked there.

“If the circuit attorney wants to be a nurse, she needs to cease pretending to be a prosecuting attorney,” Bailey told reporters.

The university confirmed Gardner’s enrollment to the Riverfront Times but did not provide specifics.

A spokesperson for Gardner told the Riverfront Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Gardner became a nurse after working as a line attorney at the circuit attorney’s office “and seeing firsthand the underlying issues that drive crime.”

The statement said Gardner continues to “stay current with classes at Saint Louis University to add to her training and advance her mission” at the circuit attorney’s office, “at great personal cost to her time with her family and loved ones. Any suggestion that she is not fully committed to her duties as circuit attorney is blatantly false.”

Gardner said she is resigning because of pending legislation that would take away many of her powers and “permanently remove the right of every St. Louis voter to elect their circuit attorney.”

Miriam Aroni Krinsky, the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a network of elected local prosecutors committed to promoting a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion and fiscal responsibility, issued a statement Thursday about Gardner’s resignation.

“Kim Gardner is a tireless advocate and public servant, and we are deeply grateful for all she has accomplished, despite the relentless attacks from opponents of reform that began as soon as she assumed office,” Krinsky said in the statement. “To avoid the undemocratic disenfranchisement of her community, CA Gardner made the tough decision to step aside to ensure the people of the city of St. Louis retained the right to vote for their circuit attorney. But she should never have had to make this choice, nor should she have had to face the personal, vicious and vile attacks that have been endured by too many change agents—and Black women elected prosecutors, in particular.”

See also: “Top St. Louis prosecutor is reprimanded for discovery missteps, misstatements in then-governor’s prosecution”

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