ST. LOUIS — Kim Gardner is stepping down as St. Louis Circuit Attorney two weeks ahead of schedule.
Earlier this month, the embattled chief prosecutor announced she would resign effective June 1. Gardner, the city’s first African American chief prosecutor, will instead leave her post May 16.
In a statement, Gardner said the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will handle priority cases until a replacement can be named. However, such authority hinges on the decision of a presiding judge and Gov. Mike Parson.
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. 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. Further inquiries about ongoing cases can be directed to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s OfficeStatement from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office
Chris King, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said if the judge and Parson signed off on it, prosecutors from across the area would be ready and able to assist the circuit attorney’s office.
“If we were to hear from the presiding judge and/or the governor that we’re in the right place, you would see a whole lot of prosecutors from a whole lot of jurisdictions — probably tomorrow, as soon as they could get in here — to help,” King said. “We are not alone in wanting to help.”
King said they were not aware Gardner was going to resign Tuesday. He said Bell has been in talks with the presiding judge and the governor’s chief of staff to try and get things sorted out.
The county prosecutor’s office would act as a transition team until Parson appoints a full-time replacement. King said attorneys for the county could start prosecuting cases. The biggest priority would be reopening the city’s warrant office.
“Our goal is to assess the level of need. I think we all understand that we’re in a crisis,” he said. “Our goal is to assess the level of crisis, to update the governor and, of course, the public on what the level of crisis is, how many cases need to be charged. We really want to get an open warrant office in the City of St. Louis, and I know that’s what the police want.”
Cases in the county would not be affected, King said, adding that they’re currently trying two murders in county court, and have quality trial attorneys on deck.
The symbiosis between St. Louis County and City means it’s imperative to help, King said.
“The City of St. Louis’ safety is critical to the safety of St. Louis County,” he said.
Gardner had faced legal battles on numerous fronts via Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s drive to remove her from office and indirect criminal contempt cases, and a dwindling roster of prosecutors in her office due to resignations. At least one St. Louis judge dubbed it a “rudderless ship of chaos.”
Gardner finally agreed to step down if state lawmakers would drop their push to approve a special prosecutor to handle felony cases in the city.
However, Gardner’s decision to resign in June did little to assuage Bailey. Within minutes of Gardner’s May 4 announcement, the attorney general demanded she leave office immediately.
During a May 3 news conference, AG Bailey said his office received information weeks ago that Gardner had enrolled in nursing courses at Saint Louis University fall 2021 to obtain an advanced nursing degree.
The attorney general subpoenaed the university and requested it turn over documents relating to Gardner’s class schedule, her hours and participation in class, hours she may have worked at the school, surveillance camera footage, and relevant conversation between Gardner and her instructors at SLU.
Gardner initially sought to quash the attorney general’s subpoenas, claiming Bailey’s quo warranto contained no references to her pursuits in the medical field. In a counter-filing made public on May 15, Bailey claimed that “On April 27, 2023 … Gardner apparently spent the morning and early afternoon hours completing clinical work in pursuit of her nursing degree.”
The attorney general said state law requires the circuit attorney and their assistants to “devote their entire time and energy to the discharge of their official duties,” making his request for Gardner’s school records relevant.
The April 27 contempt hearing was Gardner’s second no-show of the week. Three days earlier, a St. Louis Circuit Court judge declined to hold Gardner and another assistant circuit attorney in contempt after the prosecution failed to appear for the trial of Jonathon Jones, who was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action for the Sept. 6, 2021, shooting death of Brandon Scott near the Gateway Arch. Gardner’s outside counsel, Michael Downey, appeared at the April 24 hearing on her behalf.
But at that second hearing, Judge Michael Noble ruled for indirect criminal contempt proceedings for both Gardner and former deputy prosecutor Chris Desilets.
Bailey’s filing states that on the morning of April 27, an investigator working for the attorney general’s office went to the Family Care Health Center and found a vehicle in the parking lot registered to the City of St. Louis and used by Gardner for city business. The investigator watched the vehicle for nearly three hours and observed Gardner leave the health center that afternoon, get into the city vehicle, and drive to the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown.
Meanwhile, a total of 18 people have applied to replace Gardner as circuit attorney. Over the next two weeks, Governor Parson’s office will narrow the list of applicants to six, and then will present the governor with two or three finalists. Parson will interview those individuals and appoint Gardner’s successor. That person will serve out the remainder of Gardner’s current term, which is up in January 2025.
Gardner easily won the Democratic primary for circuit attorney in August 2016 over three challengers, including former St. Louis prosecutor Mary Pat Carl, and ran unopposed in the November general election. She assumed office on Jan. 6, 2017. In 2020, Gardner beat Carl again in the primary en route to landslide victory over Republican Daniel Zdrodowski.
Before becoming circuit attorney, she was a congresswoman in the Missouri House, representing District 77, covering part of St. Louis City. She won Democratic primaries in 2012 and 2014 by wide margins and ran unopposed in general elections. She declined to seek a third term, opting to run for circuit attorney.
Gardner earned a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration from Harris-Stowe State University in 1999. She attended Saint Louis University School of Law and earned her Juris Doctor (law degree) in 2003. She went back to SLU and procured her master’s degree in nursing in 2012.
She began her law career at Bell, Kirksey & Associates, and worked at the circuit attorney’s office from 2005 to 2010.
Gardner, born and raised in north St. Louis City, worked at her family’s funeral home. On her re-election campaign website, she said seeing the effects of violent crime first hand inspired her to get involved in the healthcare and justice systems.