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Appeals Court judge will preside over first step in the Gardner removal case

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, during a press conference regarding calls for her resignation at the Mel Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Thursday during a press conference regarding calls for her resignation.

A Missouri Appeals Court judge will hear a case to decide whether St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner should be removed from office.

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Wilson on Friday appointed state Appeals Court Judge John Torbitzky to hear the case.

It will be the first step in a process that the Missouri Supreme Court could ultimately decide.

On Thursday, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a quo warranto motion to oust Gardner from office. He contended, among other things, that Gardner was neglecting the duties of her office.

Gardner is facing widespread criticism after a man on house arrest, Daniel Riley, caused a car crash that seriously injured 17-year-old Janae Edmondson. Critics have said she should have pushed for his bond to be revoked after numerous violations.

Gardner has refused to step aside and called Bailey’s bid to remove her from an elected post a political stunt.

Soon after Bailey filed the motion, all of the judges who oversee the St. Louis Circuit Court recused themselves from the case because they could be called as witnesses for the trial.

Torbitzky will essentially be acting as a Circuit Court judge in the case. Gov. Mike Parson appointed the St. Louis University Law School graduate to the Court of Appeals in 2021. He previously served as a law clerk to Missouri Supreme Court Judge Zel Fischer.

Regardless of how Torbitzky rules, it is likely that the Missouri Supreme Court will ultimately decide Gardner’s fate. St. Louis University law professor Brendan Roediger said the case may not be resolved for some time.

When asked if it’s possible that the case may not be decided until after Gardner either wins or loses reelection in 2024, Roediger said: “I think that's unlikely.”

“I do believe that even if it goes that way, at each step, the courts will expedite to some extent,” Roediger said.

No date has been set for when the case will be heard before Torbitzky.

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01) speaks on Friday, June 24, 2022, during a roundtable regarding life after Roe v Wade at the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri in the Central West End.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Congresswoman Cori Bush released a lengthy statement on Friday that stopped short of calling for Gardner to step down.

Bush blames ‘system-wide failure’

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Bush, D-St. Louis County, released a lengthy statement condemning the “horrific and reckless violence” that led to Edmondson losing her legs. But unlike some other St. Louis officials, Bush didn’t call for Gardner to resign.

“This isn’t about any one prosecutor or judge. The harm that Janae Edmondson has endured is emblematic of a system-wide failure,” Bush said. “We must also recognize that what happened to Janae Edmondson is not an anomaly, and genuine accountability requires a sustained commitment to adopting a holistic public safety approach, including re-envisioning pedestrian safety and traffic enforcement.”

Some of Gardner’s usual allies, including St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Board of Aldermen President Megan Green, have criticized Gardner’s handling of Riley’s case.

Before calls for Gardner to resign intensified this week, Missouri lawmakers were considering legislation that would allow the governor to appoint a special prosecutor for places like St. Louis. While the bill was broadened to encompass the state, it was widely seen as a broadside against Gardner — especially as her foes contended she did a poor job of managing her office. A hearing on the bill is expected next week in Jefferson City.

“We must reject disingenuous, misogynistic, and racist calls by state officials to circumvent the will of St. Louisans who have entrusted democratically elected local officials to oversee and implement public safety,” Bush said. “Every person harmed by violence reflects a moral and policy failure that demands our collective responsibility.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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