Missouri AG moves forward with effort to remove St. Louis prosecutor from office

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner defended her actions in a press conference amid growing pressure for her to resign

By: - February 23, 2023 12:25 pm

If St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is forced from office, her replacement would be chosen by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (Wiley Price/St. Louis American).

Embattled St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner let a noon deadline for her resignation pass without action, triggering an effort by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey to remove her from office through the courts.

At a news conference Thursday with Gov. Mike Parson, Bailey said he would file a quo warranto petition – an action for removal from office – in St. Louis Circuit Court if Gardner decides to stay in office. He followed through on that promise shortly after noon. 

“I initiated legal proceedings to remove her from office,” Bailey said. “That was filed at 12:01 p.m. today.”

Parson, who would appoint a replacement and had not previously weighed in, said he also thinks Gardner should resign.

“What I believe is that she is not doing what she needs to be doing as the prosecutor of St. Louis,” Parson said.

Gardner, who last year survived an effort to strip her of her law license, defended her work a news conference  Thursday afternoon amidst intense pressure for her to quit because of the traumatic injuries to a Tennessee teen struck Saturday by a speeding car in downtown St. Louis.

Janae Edmonson was in St. Louis for a volleyball tournament when she was struck by a car allegedly driven by Daniel Riley, who was free on bond while awaiting trial for armed robbery. Both of her legs were amputated because of the injuries she suffered.

Bailey accused Gardner of neglecting her duties because Riley had been cited dozens of times for violating conditions of his bond. In response, Gardner issued a statement accusing the judge in Riley’s case of failing to recognize the danger he posed to the community.

“While it is true, my office could have done more, to say we did nothing is not only disingenuous but is willfully ignorant of the reality of our court system,” Gardner said at her news conference. “My office cannot force a judge to revoke for our defendants.”

In a statement issued earlier, Gardner cited seven instances where Judge Bryan Hettenbach turned down requests to revoke Riley’s bond.

“Judges have the sole authority to determine bond conditions of a defendant,” the statement read. “Bond violations and decisions do not solely rest on the shoulders of prosecutors.”

In his news release stating his intention to seek Gardner’s removal, Bailey said he was not just reacting to the case involving Riley.

“This is the latest in a long pattern of brazen neglect,” the release stated. “The St. Louis Circuit Attorney has a long history of failure to prosecute violent crime, with a backlog of at least 3,000 cases.”

In response, Gardner said Bailey, appointed in January by Parson, was using the case “as a political stunt of an unelected individual who wants to use politics to stop the voice of the people in the city of St. Louis.”

Gardner, a Democrat and the city’s first Black prosecutor, is serving her second term as circuit attorney and would be up for re-election in 2024. But she is not under fire just from Bailey, Parson and other Republicans. Democratic leaders in the city, including St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and several members of the city Board of Aldermen have criticized how Gardner has run her office. Some have joined the calls for her resignation.

“She must do some serious soul-searching about her future as circuit attorney because she has lost the trust of the people,” Jones wrote on Twitter.

Gardner declined to answer Jones during her news conference.

“The people have a process if they no longer want me in this office, and that’s called an election,” Gardner said. “And so I cannot speak for the people and I will not address anything that the mayor said because I think the people should speak for themselves.”

In a news conference Thursday in Jefferson City, several Democratic members of the Missouri House who represent St. Louis said they have lost confidence in Gardner.

“It would be in the best interest of the city — and this is my opinion, I’m not speaking for the caucus — for Kim Gardner to resign and let the city move on,” said state Rep. Steve Butz.

Rep. Donna Baringer said her constituents “have made it very clear that they want Kim Gardner to step down.” And state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge said the circuit attorney’s office “has truly lost the trust at home.”

Gardner’s fate could determine the path legislation to put control of local prosecutorial offices in the hands of the governor. The Missouri House has passed legislation allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor for five years if the number of homicide cases in any prosecuting attorney’s jurisdiction in the 12 months immediately preceding exceeds 35 cases per every 100,000 people. 

House Speaker Dean Plocher, speaking at a news conference, said that if Gardner resigns, it would take away momentum for that legislation.

“I would think that bill at that point would not have the impetus behind it,” said Plocher, R-Des Peres. 

Riley’s case could also bring a review of how judges handled his bond situation, Parson said.

“If the judges are failing, they should be called out for not doing their jobs also,” he said. “And we plan to look into that.”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.