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Taxpayers won't be paying for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's private attorneys, judge rules

Contracts with five law firms Gardner hired to represent her during a grand jury investigation into her office were not properly certified, a judge said

ST. LOUIS — A judge has determined that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has illegal contracts with private attorneys and the city shouldn’t have to pay for them.

Judge Joan Moriarty also ruled that the city’s comptroller, Darlene Green, should do more to ensure contracts exist and are legal before using taxpayer money to pay for them, according to a ruling filed Wednesday.

The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by Charles Lane – a St. Louis resident who sued Gardner and the city alleging that it’s illegal for Gardner to use public money to fight her legal battles.

Those battles include a grand jury investigation into whether a private investigator she hired, William Tisaby, committed perjury during the prosecution of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

“While she has been waiting almost a year to pay some of her legal expenses, this harm does not outweigh the harm that will be suffered by the public if the illegal expenditures are permitted to go forward,” according to the ruling.

RELATED: Could St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner lose control over certain cases?

The ruling is known an a preliminary injunction, which means the case still could go to trial. But Moriarty wrote that she needed to make a ruling that would stand unless and until that happens because, “irreparable harm likely would result in the absence of this court granting preliminary injunctive relief.”

“If this court were to decline issuance of injunctive relief, there is substantial probability that substantial unlawful expenditures of city tax revenues would occur imminently,” she wrote.

Click here to read the full Lane v. Gardner preliminary injunction order.

Moriarty previously issued a temporary restraining order on Gardner’s ability to submit bills to the comptroller’s office.

She noted in her ruling that Gardner’s office submitted a voucher for about $168,000 to pay the law firm Brown, Goldstein and Levy when the restraining order “briefly lapsed in August.”

Gardner’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Lane's attorney gave the following statement to 5 On Your Side.

"My client is 'gratified' by the judge's ruling," attorney Elkin Kistner said.

Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin said the city is pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“The city’s interest in this litigation is to guard against improper expenditures of taxpayer funds,” he said. “We’re pleased the court ruled in the way that it did, because we think we’ve accomplished that goal.”

Moriarty also ruled that an accounting officer must certify that the money exists to cover expenses in order for a contract to be legit.

In the city, that accounting officer is Comptroller Darlene Green.

Typically, when a city department enters into a contract with any outside entity, the comptroller’s office must sign off on that contract to ensure the money exists. Then, when invoices are submitted, the comptroller’s office associates the payment with the contract number.

The process exists to prevent any city departments from spending more than they have in their budget.

Gardner entered into contracts with no caps on them with five different firms before the lawsuit was filed.

In Gardner’s case, Green was paying for invoices without having signed off on the contracts, or knowing whether they existed at all, according to the ruling.

“In sum, the court finds that the contracts were not made as required because no certificate was attached to them,” according to the ruling.

Green’s spokesman Tyson Pruitt said Moriarty’s ruling is “in direct contradiction with precedent.”

“There is established precedent that city offices cannot control county office spending,” he said. “Once the state determined we shouldn’t be paying the Circuit Attorney’s bills, we stopped.

“The reality is, nothing has to change because the city hasn’t been paying them.”

One question Moriarty did not address in her ruling was whether the private attorneys Gardner hired were representing her personally to avoid criminal prosecution or in her official capacity.

The plaintiffs alleged that the attorneys were providing her criminal defense and not performing any services to the public, therefore taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to pay for her criminal defense.

City attorneys agreed with the plaintiff’s assertion on that point. 

Gardner has also sued the plaintiff in this case along with the city and police department alleging that they are engaged in a racist conspiracy against her. Gardner is black. Lane is white along with most of the other defendants named in that case.

READ MORE: Ethical Society of Police stands with Kim Gardner in racism lawsuit against City, police union