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Byers' Beat: Assistant circuit attorney mulling run against his boss, taking leave from office

Alex Polta said he is considering a run for St. Louis circuit attorney and is taking the next few weeks off.

ST. LOUIS — This week, we learned a former Kim Gardner supporter now wants to run against her to become the next St. Louis Circuit Attorney, and now, one of her own employees has confirmed he, too, is considering a run for the office.

Assistant Circuit Attorney Alex Polta told me he is thinking about running against his boss.

“I am thinking about it because whoever gets this job next is going to have a big (expletive) mess to clean up, and everything is going to be highly scrutinized by the attorney general’s office,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Polta has told Gardner he is taking the next "four weeks and 15 days off." In a text message, he told me he plans to return to the office “as of now.”

During the time he is away, he is scheduled as the lead prosecutor on seven jury trials, including four murder trials.

Through the end of the year, he is listed as the lead prosecutor on 13 jury trials total -- four of those being first-degree murder cases.

Meantime, David Mueller is not on the fence about whether to run against Gardner. The St. Louis criminal defense attorney announced this week he has filed the financial paperwork to run for the office after he said Gardner’s office committed “egregious” due process violations against one of his clients that led to the dismissal of the case.

Mueller said he voted for Gardner, but he has been let down by her failure to fulfill her progressive promises.

Part of the problem, Mueller said, is her inability to retain enough staff to actually make progressive changes.

Polta said the assistant circuit attorneys who are left are not being portrayed fairly.

As an example, he said defense attorney Dan Diemer lied to a judge when he said he never received a copy of the indictment against his client, Daniel Riley, during an arraignment Friday. The judge then printed a copy of that indictment for Diemer in court.

The assistant circuit attorney in court that day did not dispute Diemer’s claims.

“He was lying and your job is to fact check, and that’s why we don’t work with you,” Polta said before hanging up on me and continuing our discussion via text messages.

Diemer said it’s possible the indictment could have shown up in his email and he missed it, but on that particular day, he didn’t have a copy.

As for Polta’s accusation that he lied, Diemer said, “I’ve been called worse.”

Riley is accused of speeding in downtown St. Louis earlier this year and causing a crash that left 17-year-old Janae Edmondson without both of her legs. She was in town for a volleyball tournament.

He was supposed to be on house arrest for an armed robbery that took place in 2020 at the time of the crash.

By April 2022, Judge Bryan Hettenbach entered an order allowing Riley to remain on house arrest with GPS monitoring. Even though Riley had violated his house arrest dozens of times, he showed up to Hettenbach’s hearing that day. The judge then allowed him to remain on house arrest for another three months until his trial date in July 2022.

The circuit attorney’s office was not ready to proceed to trial when that date came, according to court documents.

The charges were dropped, so the trial would not proceed and would be refiled, starting the clock to a court date all over again.

Riley was allowed to remain out on house arrest with GPS monitoring with no objection from prosecutors until February when Edmondson’s life was changed forever.

He violated the house arrest at least 40 more times following that July court date, including the day he struck Janae Edmondson.

There is no record that the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office ever filed a motion asking a judge to revoke his bond.

Gardner said her office made oral motions asking Judge Bryan Hettenbach to revoke Riley’s bond, and those were denied.

Hettenbach entered an order in April 2022 stating Riley could remain out on bond.

The case prompted Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey to file a quo warranto petition to remove Gardner from office for “willfully neglecting” her duties as the city’s top prosecutor.

That case is scheduled for a hearing April 18.

That's the same week Polta is listed as the attorney of record on a first-degree murder trial, two second-degree murder trials and a voluntary manslaughter trial. Work that he presumably will now miss. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained an inaccurate number of trials Alex Polta is assigned to during his time off. It has been corrected. 

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