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Legal Roundtable: The claims, and counterclaims, aimed at Kim Gardner

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 at the Mel Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

Earlier this month, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner celebrated with her supporters over the release of a wrongfully convicted man, Lamar Johnson. Two weeks later, Gardner is facing calls for her resignation.

The acute criticism of her office stems from a car crash earlier this month that left Janae Edmondson, a 17-year-old girl from Tennessee, seriously injured. Both of her legs were amputated.

Daniel Riley, 21, caused the downtown St. Louis crash after speeding through a yield sign, police said. Garner faces criticism because Riley had violated the terms of his pretrial release more than 50 times. He was out on bond for a felony charge of stealing a gun.

Now, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is attempting to remove Gardner from her post through a legal procedure called “quo warranto,” alleging that the circuit attorney has neglected her office.

Gardner maintains that her office is not solely responsible for the circumstances that led to the crash. “The attorney general and others used this tragic happening to this young lady as a political stunt of an unelected individual to stop the voice of the people in the city of St. Louis.”

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, a panel of attorneys joined the monthly Legal Roundtable to delve into the legal issues surrounding Kim Gardner, her defense of her office’s handling of Riley's prosecution, and the legal questions that remain unanswered.

Elected in 2017, Gardner campaigned as a progressive prosecutor inspired by the Ferguson protests. But the office has also been subject of multiple reports on significant understaffing, and defense attorneys have complained of long delays before trial.

“I think my progressive disappointment in this office is around the amount of time that they're leaving people in jail,” said Javad Khazaeli, a former federal prosecutor with the St. Louis firm Khazaeli Wyrsch.

In recent years, St. Louis District public defender Matthew Mahaffey has said the average length of stay in jail for some defendants is more than 300 days.

In Riley’s case, he was first charged in the fall of 2020. His trial was set for July 2022, but the circuit attorney’s office wasn’t ready so the case was dismissed and charges were refiled. “That is just using technicalities of the system to give people jail time, and they might eventually be exonerated,” Khazaeil said.

Joining Khazaeli was Brenda Talent, a longtime attorney and former partner at the firm now known as Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. Today she is the CEO of the Show-Me Institute, an organization that advocates for small government and market solutions for public policy in Missouri. Also joining the show was Connie McFarland-Butler, a former partner at Armstrong Teasdale who now owns her own firm.

A key legal question in the case revolves around Gardner’s attempt to revoke Riley’s bond and oppose his release on house arrest. According to both Gardner and the defense lawyer who represented Riley, the Circuit Attorney’s Office officially asked Judge Bryan L. Hettenbach to keep Riley in custody at various points before his release. Hettenbach denied those motions.

“But it does not appear that those motions are reflected in the court's file,” McFarland-Butler noted. On that point, Talent cautioned that the absence of a written record could be a problem for Gardner as she defends her office.

“I would think, as a prosecutor, if you wanted to show that you were doing your job, you want to create a crisp, clear record,” she said.

In addition to discussing long wait times for trials in St. Louis, the attorneys discussed the widespread use of GPS monitoring for pretrial defendants, the motions to get Riley’s bond revoked and the quo warranto process that seeks to remove Gardner from office. They also talked about St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts and recent allegations by a deputy that he was retaliated against because of his lack of support for the sheriff.

To listen to the entire Legal Roundtable conversation listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Legal Roundtable: Analyzing the legal pressure on Kim Gardner, St. Louis’ embattled top prosecutor

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."