New St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabriel Gore says he’s ready for the challenges of the office
Almost immediately after Kim Gardner left her post as St. Louis circuit attorney on May 16, Gabriel Gore started hearing from people telling him to apply for the appointment.
“A lot of people were telling me that they thought I had a skillset that would be good for the position,” said Gore, who was sworn in Tuesday. “It was all very flattering and something that I had to consider very seriously.”
Gore said in an interview Wednesday with St. Louis Public Radio that he “fairly quickly” concluded there were just two reasons to not take the post – the size of the challenge and the fact that it would represent a potential pay cut from his position as partner at Dowd Bennett.
“Not taking on something because it’s challenging isn’t really the way I approach things, so that didn’t discourage me,” he said. “And at a time when people are telling you that you’re in a position to be of service to the community, it’s kind of hard to say, ‘Well, I don’t want to take the pay cut.’ So it ended up being a very easy decision to put my name in.”
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity
Rachel Lippmann: Take me to the moment you got the call from Gov. Mike Parson telling you the job was yours.
Gabriel Gore: I was actually in Springfield at a meeting of the Missouri State University Board of Governors – I’ve been a member since 2015, and that’s my alma mater. At that point, I was very nervous that I wouldn’t get it. Through the appointment process, I really became excited about the opportunity to play a role in restoring the circuit attorney’s office to its place in the criminal justice system.
It was something I’d had some time to think about, and how we would do it, and so I was very excited.
Lippmann: In the roughly two weeks since you’ve been nominated, what have you learned about the office that’s been both positive and negative?
Gore: The most positive thing I’ve learned is that the people who have worked here, who early in their careers, who grew up in this office, have a tremendous level of devotion to it. I’ve been in touch with a lot of those people, and they are interested in coming back and playing a role in the office’s resurgence.
In terms of negatives, I think they've been covered in detail, so it’s a challenge. We have no illusions about that. It’s going to be a very difficult task to rebuild the office, but it’s something that we’re going to get done.
Failure is not an option. We must have a high-performing circuit attorney’s office in order to have a viable criminal justice system in St. Louis.
Lippmann: What do you know you still need to learn about the office?
Gore:. We’ve only begun our initial assessment. I have some pretty good ideas of the approaches we’re going to have to take, but we’re going to be in assessment mode for a period of time and diagnosing exactly how to approach each issue. Lots to learn.
Lippmann: You described your prosecutorial philosophy as "looks at the facts and enforces the law as written.” Can you explain that a little more?
Gore: It’s really the approach I have taken throughout my legal career, and as far I know, it’s the only approach you can take. When you start taking approaches to the law that is trying to align with particular labels, I think there’s problems there.
Each case needs to be considered on its own merits. You need to look at it, and you need to decide how to proceed based on what are the facts, what’s the law, will I be able to go into court and prove my case beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s always got to be the analysis,
If you get beyond that, I think you run into problems.
Lippmann: The circuit attorney sets the tone and direction of the office, but it is fundamentally a job of managing people. What is your management philosophy?
Gore: I’ve been practicing law for nearly 30 years, and all of that time has been spent in what we would refer to as litigation shops. So I think I know a lot about what people who prosecute cases are looking for in a work environment.
You’re looking for a law office where the pursuit of excellence is the guiding standard. That’s how you want to be trained. That’s how you want to learn to practice.
You also want to work in an office that has a collegial environment. In a lot of the places I’ve worked, you really did kind of achieve the rare thing of having a family-type atmosphere in your office. That’s what I want for the circuit attorney’s office.
And then of course as a prosecutor's office, you have to do everything with just the highest level of integrity.
Lippmann: What lessons will you bring from your time on the Ferguson Commission to the office of the circuit attorney’s office?
Gore: I do feel like through that process I learned a lot about the challenges that St. Louis faces, and a lot of those challenges still persist, so I think that background will be helpful to me.
And I also think just being a good listener was something I really had to learn on the Ferguson Commission. Because that’s a lot of what we did, listening to the community, listening to people’s issues and needs, and coming up with ways to respond to that.
Lippmann: What is your message to supporters of your predecessor who believe she was driven from office by racist and sexist attacks?
Gore: My goal is to do the work that is necessary to provide a high level of public safety for all St. Louisans. That would include them and their families.
And regardless of their views about how it came about that I became circuit attorney, I would hope that they respect that the work we are doing is for the benefit of the community.
Lippmann: Should you choose not to run for this office next year, you have essentially 18 months to stabilize and rebuild. Based on what you have learned over the last two weeks, how big is that task and is it doable in that time frame?
Gore: When I say failure is not an option, I really do believe that. The idea that we can go forward in this community without a highly functioning circuit attorney’s office – I just don’t think that’s possible, so we have to get this done.
In terms of timing, I’m not even in a place where I can begin to talk about that. We’re still in the initial assessment phases. I will say that there are a lot of very talented people – attorneys and paralegals and technology people who are very committed to working really hard to get this office back on the right track as soon as possible. So I’m encouraged by that.
I have personally received a lot of support and encouragement during this transition period, and I also know that just generally the community has offered whatever support this office needs in trying to get the work done. And I’m really, really appreciative of that.