Gardner meltdown deepens: Who falsely put prosecutor's electronic signature on 28 cases?

Incompetence might only be a secondary issue in the scandal at the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office. Yesterday, KSDK reported that Kim Gardner’s office had repeatedly failed to show up at hearings or respond to a judge’s order in a murder case, leading to the dismissal of the charges and the apparent flight of the subject. Gardner’s office tried to pass this off as confusion over maternity leave, which itself is rather suspect.

Late last night, the maternity leave excuse became even more threadbare. KSDK reports that Kim Arshi, the original prosecutor in the case who went on leave, has resigned after finding that someone used her electronic signature without her consent in as many as 28 cases — including the infamous case of Brandon Campbell:

Someone signed the name of St. Louis’ lead homicide prosecutor onto at least 20 cases while she was on maternity leave earlier this year – and she resigned Tuesday, the I-Team has learned.

Kim Arshi began her maternity leave May 10. But her electronic signature appears on more than 20 cases in court documents listing her as the lead prosecutor – even though she was not in the office and did not sign them herself, according to a source familiar with the cases.

Arshi declined to comment. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

If that turns out to be accurate, hoo boy. It’s one thing to be incompetent and fail to appear at hearings. It’s quite another to put false representations on court documents, let alone forge signatures — electronic or otherwise — while doing so. Those are actual crimes, which might explain why Arshi abruptly quit after discovering what happened.

Could there be another explanation for Arshi’s abrupt resignation, though? If someone forged her signature on court documents in the manner KSDK suggests, Arshi wouldn’t be implicated at all in any potential wrongdoing. In fact, she could be considered a victim of the crime. Resigning now also likely complicates her maternity-leave benefits as well as her health-care coverage. It’s not the obvious choice to make in this situation for someone who’s been victimized — but on the other hand, who’d want to stick around this kind of incompetent-verging-on-criminal environment?

Even without the forgery issue, Gardner and her office has a few big legal problems ahead of them. Defense attorneys will waste no time in demanding dismissals as well as sanctions against the circuit attorney’s office in these cases for falsely representing itself in those documents. Judges might well be tempted to agree, especially on sanctions against Gardner and others in her office. How big of a problem might depend on what Arshi has to say about what happened, and Arshi might not have much choice in how much she shares. It seems very likely that she will get called in some of those cases to verify that she didn’t sign the documents and didn’t direct anyone to apply her signature as judges attempt to unravel what Gardner’s office did. Defense attorneys won’t pass up an opportunity to interrogate a prosecutor under oath on potential corruption issues, to be sure.

And on top of this sits the issue of Gardner’s utter incompetence. Even if Gardner didn’t forge Arshi’s signature herself or direct someone to do it, how could she not realize that one of her top prosecutors was getting assigned cases while she was out on maternity leave? Does Gardner do nothing except hold press conferences and talk about the McCloskeys? Gardner is supposed to be the ultimate administrator of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office — and it’s clear that this task is far beyond her competence.

Update: I incorrectly referred to Gardner as the St. Louis County Attorney. She is the St. Louis Circuit Attorney, a city office rather than a county office. Thanks to LauraJ on Twitter for the correction.