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Progressive St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner submits resignation after judge calls out ‘rudderless’ office for no-showing felony cases, but Republican AG continues ‘legal quest’ to remove her

Kim Gardner

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner (AP Photo/Jim Salter, File)

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner (D) announced her resignation from office, effective as of June 1, a matter of days after the judge in an assault case called her office a “rudderless ship of chaos” for no-showing yet another violent felony case, this one the shooting of an 11-year-old girl.

“It does not appear (Gardner) has made any reasonable efforts to prevent the resulting chaos,” Judge Michael Noble reportedly remarked last week. The judge promised to appoint a special prosecutor for an indirect criminal contempt hearing at the end of May against Gardner and former Assistant Circuit Attorney Chris Desilets, a prosecutor who was apparently inundated by more than 100 cases.

Over the years, Gardner has said that her “reform agenda” — treating crime as a “public health crisis” — was “working,” and she cited a reduction in crime and incarceration rates. But the latest criticism from Judge Noble accused her instead of having a “complete indifference and a conscious disregard for the judicial process” — and that was far from the first time that Gardner and her office made headlines for the wrong reasons.

Repeated no-shows in court, at one point, led to the dismissal of one murder suspect’s charges. A mistrial in another murder case was blamed on poor case management, lawyering and preparation. A murder victim’s family sued Gardner and other officials for allegedly mishandling a case — and there are a number of similar stories. Gardner was memorably disqualified from prosecuting gun-toting lawyers Mark and Patricia McCloskey in the high-profile Black Lives Matter case due to an “appearance in impropriety.” She was also reprimanded for professional misconduct for failing to produce documents amid the investigation of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) — and police raided her office.

Then came February, when a St. Louis crash suspect who was out of jail and had violated bond dozens of times allegedly hit into Janae Edmonson, a Tennessee volleyball player visiting Missouri for a tournament, and caused her to lose both of her legs. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) responded to the incident by calling for Gardner’s removal from office and filing suit to make that happen.

On Thursday, Gardner said in a resignation statement that she has been “targeted” by “people outside of the city” in the Missouri State Legislature and elsewhere who want to strip St. Louis residents of their right to elect the Circuit Attorney just to remove her from office.

“If I can stop that from happening, I will, even if that necessitates my leaving the office to which you have elected me,” Gardner said. “This most recent bill is part of a coordinate, long-standing strategy to undermine me and my efforts to make the City of St. Louis safer and fairer.”

Gardner said that the “attacks” on her office seemed “designed to stop the office from functioning, at the expense of public safety.” She also said there appeared to be no end in sight to an “onslaught of records requests” and “attacks on hard-working line attorneys,” and claimed that the legislature’s attempt at “outright disenfranchisement” can neither be enabled or allowed. Therefore, Gardner said, she submitted her resignation.

“If I can stop that from happening, I will, even if that necessitates my leaving the office to which you have elected me,” Gardner said. “This most recent bill is part of a coordinate, long-standing strategy to undermine me and my efforts to make the City of St. Louis safer and fairer.”

According to the Missouri Independent, Gardner issued her resignation as part of an agreement with Democratic state senators to shelve a Republican-led bill, which proposed giving a special prosecutor — by order of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) — “exclusive jurisdiction” to prosecute violent crimes in St. Louis. In recent days and weeks, support had reportedly eroded among members of Gardner’s own party.

Attorney General Bailey, for his part, vowed to continue his “legal quest” to remove Gardner from office, arguing that she should not spend one more day in office.

“There is absolutely no reason for the Circuit Attorney to remain in office until June 1. We remain undeterred with our legal quest to forcibly remove her from office. Every day she remains puts the city of St. Louis in more danger,” Bailey said in a statement. “How many victims will there be between now and June 1? How many defendants will have their constitutional rights violated? How many cases will continue to go unprosecuted?”

Gardner, a former state representative who became the first Black top prosecutor in St. Louis, ran for office as a progressive reformer and was twice elected. Gardner’s critics on the right often note she received campaign donations from billionaire George Soros’ “Safety & Justice” Super PAC (see: numerous stories referring to Gardner as “Soros-backed”).

“Together, we can make St. Louis safe by being smart and tough on crime by reforming a broken system,” Gardner said in one Safety & Justice-funded ad from 2016.

The resignation letter came days after Gardner said that she would not resign amid a “witch hunt” and that she would have to be removed from office.

In the letter, Gardner said she was trying to make St. Louis better by leaving office to ensure an end to the lawmakers’ threatened jurisdiction-altering legislation.

“I will forever remain a tireless advocate for all who call our beautiful city home. Public safety particularly in states where poverty and disinvestment exists, there is a coordinated intent on taking away the rights we hold dear — to live free from devastating gun violence, to control our own bodies, to have a voice in our communities — and they are willing to sacrifice democracy to do it,” Gardner said, warning: “If we allow this to succeed, we may never get these rights back.”

Gov. Parson said that he would “immediately” begin the process to appoint Gardner’s replacement.

“Our Office has officially been notified of the resignation of Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, effective June 1, 2023. We fully understand the gravity of this situation and approach our duty to appoint a replacement with the utmost seriousness,” Gov. Parson tweeted. “We will immediately start the replacement process according to the Missouri Constitution and Section 105.050, RSMo. We are committed to finding a candidate who represents the community, values public safety, and can help restore faith in the City’s criminal justice system.”

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.