Kim Gardner resigns as St. Louis circuit attorney, 2 weeks earlier than expected
Updated at 2 p.m. May 16 with comments from Wesley Bell's spokesman
Embattled St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is resigning earlier than expected.
After announcing earlier this month that she would leave office on June 1, Gardner chose instead to step down Tuesday.
“The Circuit Attorney has worked with St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and his office to ensure a comprehensive transition plan is in place to handle cases that prioritizes public safety,” read a statement from Gardner’s office. “Effective immediately, Kimberly M. Gardner will end her service as the city of St. Louis Circuit Attorney. Ms. Gardner has been committed to serving the people of the city of St. Louis and has done all she can to ensure a smooth transition.”
Chris King, a spokesman for Bell, said that before she resigned, Gardner gave authority over her office to Bell. But as of 1 p.m, King said Bell was waiting either on the court or Gov. Mike Parson to declare who has authority over the office.
“Circuit Attorney Gardner resigned unexpectedly and we are working out what happens now,” King said. “We were invited in last week to form a transition team. And we’re now waiting from the court or the governor on who will be the authority for the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office.”
King said Gardner’s “unexpected resignation has put us in kind of a gray area.”
“Kim issued an order assigning authority to us,” King said. “That order is before the court. It’s ultimately the court’s decision whether to confer that authority upon our office.”
When asked if Bell would have the ability to run the circuit attorney’s office and remain St. Louis County prosecutor, King replied: “We’ll hear from the court as to how we will proceed.”
He also said this situation would not affect Bell’s ability to prosecute crimes in St. Louis County.
“We’re fine,” King said. “We have two murder trials going on in the county now. We’ve got super competent trial attorneys working them. We’re fine.”
St. Louis County Councilman Dennis Hancock filed a measure to require county council approval before any money is spent in Bell assisting the circuit attorney’s office. King said that there are two staff attorneys at the circuit attorney’s office on Tuesday learning how to charge cases.
“I don’t know what their value would be for the day,” he said. “But the city of St. Louis’ safety is critical for the safety of St. Louis County. So we’re doing what Wesley was elected to do and what we applied to do, which is protect public safety in the St. Louis region. I know that a safe St. Louis City is critical to a safe St. Louis County.”
Her decision to leave earlier came a day after Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office filed documents showing that Gardner was spotted leaving Family Health Centers during daytime work hours, potentially providing evidence she was working toward a graduate degree in nursing during a contempt hearing for her office.
Bailey’s office was planning on being in court Tuesday afternoon regarding an effort to oust Gardner from office. With Gardner resigning, it is likely that the quo warranto hearing will soon become moot.
King said that Bell’s office “did not expect Circuit Attorney Gardner to resign today.” Bailey’s efforts to oust Gardner came as her office is understaffed and her assistant circuit attorneys are handling unmanageable caseloads.
“Our goal is to assess the level of need,” King said. “I think we all understand that we’re in a crisis. Our goal is to assess the level of crisis: To update the governor, and of course the public through the media on what the level of crisis is. … We really want to get an open warrant office in the city of St. Louis. And I know what the police want. So hopefully the governor and the presiding judge will confer the authority on us to do these things.
“It’s not our office,” he added. “We’re here to help as a transition team. If the judge tells us we can start charging cases, we’ll start charging cases. The best I can say repeatedly is that we’re waiting to hear from the presiding judge and/or the governor. The governor has the appointing power. He can appoint someone right now and that might be your story.”
Bell has been in contact with other prosecutors in the St. Louis region to help stabilize the circuit attorney’s office.
The move places more pressure on Parson to appoint Gardner’s replacement. His office said on Monday that 18 people had applied to succeed Gardner. Some of the rumored possibilities include St. Louis Judge Michael Noble, who made news earlier when he dubbed Gardner’s office a “rudderless ship of chaos” during a contempt hearing.
Other potential replacements include defense attorney David Mueller, former Alderman Michael Gras, former Assistant Circuit Attorney Patrick Hamacher, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Walker and state Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis.
Parson is expected to address the media later on Tuesday afternoon.
This is a developing story that will be updated
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