ST. LOUIS – A marathon court hearing Tuesday saw teams of lawyers representing St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey debate the merits of a suit filed by the state’s top law enforcer to remove the city’s chief prosecutor.
The hearing started with arguments over the circuit attorney’s motion to dismiss. Defense lawyer Jonathan Sternberg argued that the attorney general’s office comes nowhere close to proving “willful neglect.” Counselor Andrew Crane countered that Gardner repeating a process that continues to fail is the definition of willful neglect.
After several hours of legal arguments, which saw both sides go over details of objections and filings to outright dismiss the case, Missouri Court of Appeals Judge John Torbitzky set a timeline for lawyers to respond in writing to certain claims, and scheduled the trial for the end of September.
Torbitzky said he will rule quickly after reading additional written arguments, which are due in one week.
The first twist of the day came when Judge Bill Corrigan, who’s handing the quo warranto case on behalf of Bailey’s office, complained of being stonewalled by the circuit attorney’s office in attempts to gather evidence and documentation. Torbitzky asked the parties to have a discussion in a side room to work out some of the issues. They returned with additional arguments that lasted more than an hour.
Lawyer John Jeffers, representing the circuit attorney’s office, called the requests overbearing, burdensome, and unfair to both witnesses and victims. The AG said those concerns shouldn’t be an issue because of the court’s ability to instill protective orders. Gardner lawyer Michael Downey added that the requests were still “incredibly broad,” claiming the AG is saying, “Give us everything in the world.”
That led to another twist from former assistant prosecutor Natalia Ogukiewicz and her lawyer Bob Plunkert, who were in the back of the courtroom. Plunkert said his client will not be silenced and said that she has upwards of 3,000 pages of emails and documents, and that she is prepared to provide them in court if asked.
Attorney General Bailey first filed suit to have Gardner removed from office back in February, following the downtown crash that resulted in a Nashville teen losing her legs.
There was great controversy over why the driver, who police say caused the crash, was out of jail on bond in another case, despite the fact that he violated the terms of his bond many times.
Bailey filed a lengthy amended motion last month, pointing to numerous reasons why he believes Gardner is failing to do her job and should be removed from office. The circuit attorney fired back, saying Bailey’s allegations and the suit are a political stunt.
During Tuesday’s hearing, both sides believed the trial could last about 10 days. Judge Torbitzky said the first day of the trial will be Monday, Sept. 25.