Judge tosses suit alleging racially motivated conspiracy to oust reform-minded prosecutor

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A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner that alleged that the city and police union sought to engineer her ouster and took part in a racially motivated conspiracy to interfere with her reform efforts.

U.S. District Judge John Ross of the Eastern District of Missouri said Gardner’s amended complaint “can best be described as a conglomeration of unrelated claims and conclusory statements supported by very few facts, which do not plead any recognizable cause of action.” The suit alleged “personal slights” rather than facts giving rise to a conspiracy, he said in the Sept. 30 opinion.

Ross, an appointee of President Barack Obama, gave Gardner a chance to amend her complaint.

Gardner is the first African American to be elected as chief prosecutor for St. Louis.

Courthouse News Service, Law360, St. Louis Public Radio, the St. Louis Business Journal and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have coverage of the opinion.

Besides the city and police union, defendants in Gardner’s suit included a special prosecutor who searched Gardner’s files and electronic communications and a former police officer who filed a lawsuit against Gardner to prevent her from using taxpayer money to defend the special prosecutor investigation.

The special prosecutor was hired to investigate perjury allegations against an investigator hired by Gardner to assist her investigation of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

Gardner’s probe had led to an invasion-of-privacy charge against Greitens, who was accused of taking a partially nude photo of his former mistress without her knowledge and consent. The charge was dropped in May 2018 and Greitens resigned a month later.

Gardner’s investigator was charged with perjury in an indictment that alleged that Gardner failed to correct his inaccuracies. The case is pending. Gardner has denied any wrongdoing.

Gardner’s suit alleged violation of the civil rights conspiracy statute passed as part of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, along with violations of her Fourth Amendment rights and Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

“Gardner presents no specific material facts, circumstantial or otherwise, to show that defendants acted with each other for the purpose of depriving her—or anyone else—of a constitutional right to equal protection,” Ross said. “Her complaint is nothing more than a compilation of personal slights—none of which rise to a legal cause of action.”

Gardner is represented by lawyer Roy Austin of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis. Austin gave a statement to several publications.

“Kimberly Gardner has been viciously attacked by the coordinated powerful few simply because she is a Black woman reforming the criminal justice system so that all people in the city of St. Louis are treated fairly,” Austin said. “The improperly appointed special prosecutor continues to be allowed to hide the contents of an illegitimate search warrant from which he seized and holds every file that belonged to the circuit attorney’s office. Since the summer of 2019, the city has violated its sunshine law obligations and continues to hide documents that will reveal its dishonest role in this matter. We will continue to fight on behalf of Ms. Gardner until the truth of this conspiracy is brought to light.”

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