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St. Louis judge denies motion for special prosecutor in Ret. Capt. David Dorn murder case

Being overburdened does not qualify as a conflict of interest, according to the judge's ruling

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis judge has denied St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s request to appoint a special prosecutor to handle retired St. Louis Police Capt. David Dorn’s murder case.

Gardner has asked St. Louis judges to appoint special prosecutors on several homicide cases recently. In the Dorn case, prosecutors from her office cited a conflict of interest as the reason and defined it as being overburdened.

In his ruling, Judge Michael Stelzer essentially wrote that statutory law and case law allows special prosecutors to be appointed under certain circumstances, but none of those circumstances applies in this case.

"The Circuit Attorney's motion does not set forth any factual basis for disqualification," Stelzer wrote. "At the hearing, the Circuit Attorney indicated that the 'conflict' was actually a staffing or time management issue within the Circuit Attorney's Office. 

"Disqualification is a 'drastic response' to concerns that may be better addressed by case management tools, especially given the prosecutor's statutory duties to commence and prosecute the case."

The full ruling from the judge is included at the bottom of this story.

If Gardner’s office is overburdened, local prosecutors must ask the governor to appoint the Attorney General’s Office to handle a case – not a judge.

"This appears to be the proper mechanism to procure assistance for a prosecuting attorney's office that has no conflict of interest but is unable to handle its caseload, due to the pandemic, staff turnover, or any other reason."

Whether Gardner’s office will ask Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office to handle the Dorn case is unclear.

Schmitt and Gardner have locked horns politically through the years. He’s a Republican; she’s a Democrat.

Gardner’s office released a statement:

We're disappointed that Judge Stelzer chose to use his judicial direction to deny the people of the City of St. Louis the option of following prior precedent, which has included utilizing qualified prosecution resources of neighboring jurisdictions to address city prosecution needs. During this unprecedented pandemic, we have remained focused on public safety, and will continue to meet our duty to fairly and effectively prosecute cases.

Dorn, 77, was fatally shot June 2, 2020 after interrupting the burglary of a pawn shop in The Ville neighborhood after riots about the murder of George Floyd erupted in St. Louis