Embattled St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner will resign her office, effective June 1.
In a letter to the governor that her office posted online, Gardner cited an “onslaught” of attacks that she said could result in St. Louis losing the right to elect its prosecutor.
“I can absorb those attacks, and I have. But I can neither enable nor allow the outright disenfranchisement of the people of the City of St. Louis, nor can I allow these outsiders to effectively shut down our important work,” she wrote. “If not for these two things, I would continue to fight tirelessly to maintain the job you selected me to serve.”
Gardner’s announcement came two days after a specially appointed judge denied her request to dismiss a quo warranto action brought by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who sought to oust her from office for allegedly engaging in “willful neglect of her official duty” by failing or refusing to prosecute criminal cases. Gardner has denied the claims and said they were racially and politically motivated. A trial had been set for September.
Bailey indicated in a statement that the case was not moot.
“There is absolutely no reason for the Circuit Attorney to remain in office until June 1st,” he wrote. “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. How many victims will there be between now and June 1st? How many defendants will have their constitutional rights violated? How many cases will continue to go unprosecuted?”
In a statement, Gov. Mike Parson said he would immediately start the replacement process. Under state law, that person would serve until the next regular election for the position.
“We fully understand the gravity of this situation and approach our duty to appoint a replacement with the utmost seriousness,” he said, adding “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.”
Gardner was elected in 2016 as the first Black circuit attorney in the city’s history and was re-elected in 2020. She has been criticized as ineffective by state Republican leaders throughout her tenure. A bill pending in the legislature this year would allow the governor to appoint a special prosecutor in jurisdictions where the homicide rate exceeds a certain threshold.
In a statement, the St. Louis Circuit Court said its judges hope the next prosecutor is “successful in restoring stability to the Office and rebuilding its ranks with experienced prosecutors,” but they “remain deeply concerned about the high volume of serious criminal cases scheduled for trial in the coming weeks without assigned prosecutors.”
Several cases have been dismissed this year when prosecutors failed to appear for trial, for which Gardner faced a potential contempt of court charge. At a recent hearing, Judge Michael Noble, who said he would appoint a special prosecutor to address the charge, referred to her office as a “rudderless ship of chaos.”
In her letter, Gardner noted that St. Louis’ judges are appointed by the governor under what she referred to as the “ironically named” Nonpartisan Court Plan.
“That makes the position of elected prosecutor particularly sacred in our city,” she wrote. “An elected prosecutor is our city’s sole opportunity to have a say in its community’s criminal justice system.”