ST. LOUIS, Missouri — As embattled Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner digs in to defend against Attorney General Andrew Bailey's push to expel her from office, former prosecutors who use to work for her are saying she's refused their offers to help out with the heavy workload.
"From an institutional perspective, this office appears to be on the brink of collapse," former Assistant Circuit Attorney Patrick Hamacher tweeted.
Gardner’s chief trial assistant Marvin Teer abruptly resigned from her office last week, setting off a new wave of concern from local leaders and the legal community that the prosecutor's office was falling further into disarray.
In a series of tweets, Hamacher, who ran for circuit attorney in 2016, claimed Gardner has turned away help from qualified attorneys who offered to give her overworked staff some much-needed reprieve.
"The sheer lack of employees to handle the high number of important cases is concerning — but the practices being endorsed by Ms. Gardner as a way to extend timelines is unethical," he said. "I know other prosecutors’ offices have offered assistance, only to be turned down by Ms. Gardner. She needs help. Our city simply cannot go on with a very important component of the system simply failing."
Board of Aldermen President Megan Green shared Hamacher's comments and said, "Reform can't happen if the office can't function."
Green is one of a number of Democratic leaders in the city who have expressed concerns with Gardner's performance in the job but have also voiced reservations about the Republican-led push to impeach her, which would end in Gov. Mike Parson appointing her replacement.
Parson recently shot down any notion of creating a special election to let voters pick a new Circuit Attorney but offered to take input from Mayor Tishaura Jones and other elected officials.
"We have a very complicated set of facts right now," Alderwoman Cara Spencer said during a recent appearance on The Record. "I think we need some help within the circuit attorney's office. There's a myriad of ways we can do that. But it's clear that we're not delivering the justice that our families, quite frankly, deserve right now. And so bringing in some additional resources, I think, is key to moving through this the rest of this term."
According to Hamacher, state law allows the circuit attorney to hire up to seven special prosecutors to help handle the workload, or she could leverage prosecutorial conflict laws to bring in assistance from other prosecutors in nearby jurisdictions. He said Gardner could also lean on the U.S. Attorney's Office to help handle some violent crimes that involve federal crimes, or she could bring in part-time prosecutors.
If she exhausted all four of those options and still needed help, Hamacher said she could ask the governor and attorney general to send aides as a last resort. While a Republican would designate those assistant attorney generals for the assignment, they would still report directly to Gardner for the duration of the job.
He said he avoided criticizing Gardner publicly for years because he felt her staff was swamped and needs more prosecutors to shoulder the workload.
"This office is on the brink," he said. "It is very short-staffed. That's leading to issues with dropping cases and then refiling these cases. That's not fair to the victims. That's not fair to the defendants in these cases."
Some progressive Democrats have asked Hamacher to run for circuit attorney again next year. He hasn't committed to that just yet but confirmed some people have asked him to run.
"I believe that somebody will be challenging her for sure," he said.
Democratic political circles were buzzing with chatter about a different poll conducted over the weekend. Several people familiar with the survey questions said pollsters were gauging support for a potential match-up between Gardner and State Sen. Steve Roberts.
Roberts, who doubles as a private attorney, challenged Congresswoman Cori Bush in 2022 and lost. He did not respond to questions about the poll or his political ambitions.
A few dozen of Gardner's most ardent supporters marched down Market Street on Sunday afternoon and rallied on the steps outside her office. Their rhetoric painted the controversy in Gardner's office as a broader litmus test of the Black political power base in St. Louis.
"White supremacy is determined to bring down Kimberly Gardner, and we refuse to allow that to happen," Julia Davis said.
"They're trying to take the power back in this city," another organizer said. "They're trying to take us back 200 years."
"Certainly some of the attacks against her are definitely racial," Hamacher said. "I vehemently disagree with those attacks."
Rally-goers accused Missouri Republicans of a racially-motivated political power play to push a Black woman out of elected office, but some of the activists also lashed out at Mayor Tishaura Jones.
"It's the Black leadership who turned their backs and made comments that sparked this fight," one Gardner supporter said.
Gardner's backers felt betrayed when the mayor called on Gardner to consider whether she still wants the job as the city's top prosecutor.
"You can't talk about loyalty if you don't talk about disloyalty," the Rev. Richard Jackson said. "They're stabbing (Gardner) in the back because she represents the community."
Some of Gardner's supporters carried signs that said she enjoyed support from 70% of city voters; however, recent polling shows Gardner's public support plummeting, down to 23% of likely 2024 voters.
The numbers were so low, her supporters couldn't believe it.
"I find it amazing that I hear a report about a poll being taken, but yet I never got a call," Regina Dennis-Nana said. "And all the members who live in the city here who often they receive calls and but yet we were not allowed we were not selected to participate in that poll."
The Remington Research/Missouri Scout poll showed typical partisan divides. The survey of 469 likely voters showed 28% of St. Louis Democrats, 14% of Independents and 7% of Republican likely voters supported her.
Gardner's strongest base of support came from 46% of Black voters.
"The poll that matters is the one that the people did, and the people elected her twice," Dennis-Nana said.
Gardner won with 74% of the vote in 2020, but that was against a Republican in a city that leans heavily Democratic. Her real test of electability would come in a primary challenge from a Democrat.
"I believe in free and fair elections, and I do recognize that Ms. Gardner has been elected twice by the city of St. Louis," Hamacher said.
Gardner's office, which is closed for business on the weekends, has not yet responded to a request for comment.