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Judges Reject Separate Docket For St. Louis Gun Cases

(via Flickr/robertnelson)

Updated at 4:55 with reaction from chief Sam Dotson.

A proposal that would have had two judges handling most crimes involving firearms in the city of St. Louis has been rejected by the judges themselves.

By a vote of 16-11, the judges at their monthly meeting voted instead to consider an alternate proposal that makes gun cases a priority in all courtrooms - a plan that was adopted by the same margin.

Mayor Francis Slay tweeted this reaction from Kansas City, where he's attending a summit on urban crime:

St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson, who is also in Kansas City, said he was disappointed that the court had chosen a "watered-down" gun docket.

"It's not about a speedy trial, but about outcomes," he said.

The votes followed more than an hour of debate on the merits of the proposal supported by the mayor, circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce, and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. In addition to giving most gun cases to two judges, the initial measure included more supervision for defendants before their case is tried, and if they were sentenced to probation or parole. All offenders whose cases went through the gun docket would also get a visit from a social worker.

But concerns about judicial independence and the proper role of the court seemed to carry the day.

"We are not the 22nd Circuit School of Social Work," said judge Robert Dierker, who championed the alternate proposal adopted by the judges. "I don't think it's appropriate to turn a courtroom into a lab."

Dierker was also critical of the intense publicity efforts by the mayor and chief of police. Other judges were concerned that those assigned to the gun docket would be influenced by political pressure

Joyce, the prosecutor, rejected that notion.

Credit (Kate Essig/St. Louis Public Radio. Source: Proposal documents)
A quick look at the differences between Dierker's and Garvey's proposals for the gun docket.

"They do what they think is the right thing to do, and I think we see that here today as well," she said. All of us in public service are under scrutiny. In this day and age, everything is electronic. It;'s very easy for the public to see what's going on in the court system. That can't be a reason why we don't do reform."

Joyce said she had not closely reviewed Dierker's proposal, but was concerned that it lacked the extensive pre and post-trial supervision.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Slay, Maggie Crane, said city officials will be pushing for legislation at the state level that would implement their preferred version.

"We just think people deserve better. Law abiding citizens in this city deserve better," she said. "We think that reform will happen; we know it will happen because the public is insisting that it happen. So we don't need judge's permission to hold them accountable and make it happen."

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow Kate Essig on Twitter: @KateEssig

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.