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Special prosecutor named to pursue contempt charges against St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner

A judge last week called Gardner's office a "rudderless ship of chaos" that forces attorneys to handle untenable caseloads.

ST. LOUIS (CN) — The legal battle for embattled St. Louis City Prosecuting Attorney Kim Gardner intensified on multiple fronts Wednesday with the appointment of a special prosecutor to pursue contempt claims against her.

St. Louis City Presiding Judge Elizabeth Hogan appointed Allison Lee as the special prosecutor. Lee is a shareholder of Sandberg Phoenix in Clayton, Mo. Her bio on the firm’s website describes her as “a seasoned trial attorney who focuses her practice on family law and domestic relations.”

The appointment comes after Circuit Judge Michael Noble announced he would appoint a special prosecutor on April 27 to pursue claims against Gardner and her now former assistant, Christopher Desilets. Noble called Gardner’s office a "rudderless ship of chaos” that forces attorneys to handle untenable caseloads while suggesting that Gardner and Desilets were guilty of indirect criminal contempt after Desilets didn't show up for a scheduled trial and a subsequent hearing earlier this week.

Lee was also appointed as special prosecutor in the case against Desilets, who failed to show up to a pair of court dates in an assault case. A hearing for both contempt cases has been set for May 30.

Gardner, a progressive Democrat, has been criticized for years for understaffing and dysfunction in her office. Those issues reached a boiling point in February after a burglary suspect who was supposed to be on house arrest crashed a speeding car into a Tennessee teenager visiting the city for a volleyball tournament, causing the amputation of both of her legs.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, filed a lawsuit on February 23 seeking her removal. Bailey claims Gardner’s office has repeatedly failed to prosecute criminal cases, failed to inform and confer with victims, and has refused to exercise judgment to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.

In that case, Gardner’s motion to dismiss was largely denied on Tuesday.

Bailey and Bill Corrigan, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the attorney general, held a press conference late Wednesday afternoon to address Tuesday’s ruling and add another layer to their case. 

The judge “found that we are entitled to obtain 90% of what we've asked for,” Corrigan said. “And what we've asked for includes all communications to and from victims in our cases we've alleged in our amended petition. It includes information about the warrant backlog, the staffing shortages, the case loads, and other categories of information. We look forward to getting that information after two months of delays and the judge ordered them to produce those documents within the next 30 days.” 

Bailey announced that his office has recently received information that Gardner has been taking nursing classes at St. Louis University, which would violate a state law that requires Gardener to devote her full time and energy into the office of prosecuting attorney. 

“Obtaining a nursing degree is not one of her official duties, prosecuting criminals is,” Bailey said. “Yet she has consistently failed to charge new cases, inform and confer with victims and move the cases she does charge to disposition.” 

Bailey has issued subpoenas to SLU regarding Gardner’s alleged nursing studies. 

Bailey also mentioned the contempt proceedings during the 10-minute press conference.

“They demonstrate a consistent pattern of behavior of her refusal to discharge her official duties,” he said. 

Gardner has claimed the efforts to remove her are politically motivated.

“With this Quo Warranto, the Attorney General of the State of Missouri has launched a full-out attack not only against St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, but against her entire staff,” Gardner said in a statement on April 18. “Laser-focused on removing a twice-elected Black female who represents a majority-minority city, the AG has picked apart every case and every decision her staff makes, taking delight in any mistake he imagines attorneys have made.”

Gardner’s office has faced mass defections amid the controversy. Attorney Alex Polta left on Friday and Desilets announced his resignation on Monday as nearly one-third of Gardner’s office have left since Bailey’s filing in February.

The defections have left an already short staff to handle thousands of criminal and child support cases in the city.

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Categories / Courts, Criminal, Law, Regional

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