ST. LOUIS — Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced legal action to remove St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner from office Thursday amid mounting political backlash over her office’s handling of cases.
Bailey confirmed during a Thursday afternoon press conference that he initiated legal proceedings to remove Gardner after she didn't respond to his demands for her to resign by noon Thursday. A petition of quo warranto was filed at 12:01 p.m. Thursday and was pending with the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court, he said.
Gardner denounced Bailey's actions on Thursday as a "political stunt" and an attempt at voter suppression, saying she was going to return to focusing on the work she was elected to do.
RELATED: Gardner defends actions of her office in press conference, court transcripts dispute her claims
Bailey's call for Gardner's removal comes as pressure mounts against her office after a 17-year-old volleyball player was critically injured in a crash caused by a suspect who was supposed to be on house arrest. Many local leaders have called the case emblematic of the dysfunction in Gardner's office.
The Missouri Supreme Court on Friday appointed Judge John P. Torbitzky of the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals to preside over the case. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson initially appointed Torbitzky in 2021 to fill a vacancy in the appeals court, and he was elected to the position via a retention vote in November.
The St. Louis Circuit Court on Thursday recused itself from hearing the case, citing "an appearance of impropriety for each judge."
Bailey said his petition makes three claims against the circuit attorney:
- Claims she has failed to prosecute cases that are pending in her jurisdiction
- Claims she has failed to confer and inform victims of the procedural posture and ultimate disposition in criminal cases
- Claims she has neglected her duties by failing to charge new cases referred to her by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
"These three behaviors constitute a continued pattern of failure to discharge her duties in office and represent neglect under the statutes, and warrant removal," Bailey said at the news conference. "At the end of the day, this is about the rule of law and about justice."
Read the full petition here:
In his Wednesday statement announcing the ultimatum, Bailey said, "Instead of protecting victims, Circuit Attorney Gardner is creating them."
Bailey spoke on the standard of proof he would need to meet in court in order to force her out.
"We need to prove neglect. We believe that the allegations of the petition establish neglect," he said. "And we need to prove that under the civil burden of proof, as provided in statute and Missouri Supreme Court rule. And I'll tell you this, there are inconsistencies in her excuses and the docket entries on Case Net. And we're going to get to the bottom of that."
Gardner addressed the legal action for the first time at a 2:30 p.m. news conference, where she said described Bailey's actions as "a political stunt of an unelected individual who wants to use politics to stop the voice of the people of the city of St. Louis.
"This is nothing more than voter suppression that we've seen on a national level as well as in the state of Missouri," Gardner said.
Janae Edmondson and her family were walking back to their hotel in downtown St. Louis on Saturday when police said 21-year-old Daniel Riley sped down St. Charles Street, failed to brake, hit several cars and pinned Edmondson. She lost both of her legs in the crash.
The I-Team reported Monday that Riley had violated his GPS monitoring conditions at least 90 times since he was first charged with armed criminal action and robbery in September 2020.
Gardner has taken a defensive stance this week amid accusations that failures in her office kept Riley out on bond, in a Wednesday statement accusing a judge of denying her office's requests to keep the crash suspect behind bars.
That directly opposes a statement from a spokesperson for the 22nd Judicial Circuit that said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office did not file motions to revoke Riley’s bond during the two years leading up to Saturday’s crash despite the dozens of violations of his bond.
On Thursday, the circuit attorney said her focus was on getting justice for Janae Edmondson and doubled down on her accusation that a judge denied her office's requests to revoke the suspect's bond.
"While it is true my office could have done more, to say we did nothing is not only disingenuous but is willfully ignorant of the realities of our court system," Gardner said. "My office cannot force a judge to revoke bond for a defendant.
"It is particularly frustrating that the willful ignorance has empowered the ongoing harassment of the hardworking men and women in my office, who handle cases as well as any prosecutor would have done given the court's posture. In particular, the assistant circuit attorney handling this case is a tireless advocate for the people of the city of St. Louis, and I condemn in the harshest terms the hate that has been directed to her personally, including her family."
During a news conference preceding Bailey's conference, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Gardner was "not doing what she needs to be doing as the prosecutor of St. Louis."
"I do think she should resign," Parson said. "I think with everything that's happened and it continues, I think it's more of a pattern. It continues to happen.
"Look, we are public servants. We're elected officials. All of us are. I am. They are. And if you say you're going to do your job and take an oath to that, you should be doing that very thing. So if the judges are failing, they should be called out for not doing their jobs also. And we plan to look into that and see where that's at. You know, are they doing what they need to be doing? Look, some guy that can walk out a bond 42 different times. There's a failure in the system. And we need to first admit there's a failure that and we need to figure out how we're going to change that," he said.
Bailey sat down with 5 On Your Side Thursday night to discuss his case against Gardner:
In Missouri, a prosecuting attorney can only be removed by a judicial process, but there are some other ways they could be disqualified if they were disbarred or facing criminal charges.
Under Missouri state law, prosecuting attorneys cannot be impeached or simply removed by a mayor or governor.
"I wish that we weren't at this point today," Bailey said. "However, the rule of law and justice demand that action be taken to hold Kim Gardner accountable for her failure to discharge her ethical, moral and legal obligations."
A spokesperson for the family said Janae Edmondson remained in critical condition as of Thursday.
"Our focus is on the recovery of this young woman, Janae Edmondson, and on making sure the individual actually responsible for what happened to her is held accountable," Gardner said. "And while I understand that politics will always play a role, my office will return to focusing on the important work that the people of the city of St. Louis elected me."
Gardner took office in 2017, becoming the first Black person to head that position. Previously, Gardner was the Missouri State Representative for District 77 from 2013 to 2017.
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