"Dereliction of duty": Dismissed cases tripled under Gardner, while cases stall

The more people dig into the job performance of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, the worse it looks. Even her allies have begun asking whether Gardner is championing criminal-justice reform or simply fumbling her duties. The chief public defender in the jurisdiction told NPR’s local affiliate that Gardner’s performance is “a troubling reality,” even though Matthew Mahaffey supported her reforms:

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch pinned the dismissals on high turnover at the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. The office has suffered more than 100% turnover under Gardner, and as a result, writes Joel Currier, it’s gone from dismissing an average of 10% to 15% of felony cases in the years before Gardner’s election to more than 30% in the last three years. Last year, it dismissed 36% of all felony cases, Currier reported. …

While Gardner’s office has assured the public that the charges have been refiled in all three cases, there will be delays for both crime victims and defendants seeking their day in court.

“It starts the process over again,” he said. “And that is a troubling reality for everyone that’s involved with that case, regardless of whether they’re with the prosecutor’s office or our office. For our clients, many times, it means they remain confined, and they have to start again towards what they hope is an opportunity to address the case in the way they have decided they want to address it.”

Besides, Mahaffey points out that Gardner isn’t exactly walking the walk on reform. One of the key issues for public defenders is unnecessary delays in court proceedings. Rather than fix it, Gardner has defied efforts and orders to fix the problem:

Mahaffey previously blamed the circuit attorney’s policies and practices for forcing St. Louis defendants to endure unduly long jail stays. He told St. Louis on the Air in March that the average stay at the City Justice Center had grown to 344 days. A task force looking into conditions at the jail after multiple riots by detainees last winter cited lengthy stays as a factor.

Although Mahaffey publicly called for changes in how prosecutors use the grand jury process, and what he sees as unnecessary delays to getting a day in court, he said the circuit attorney has not changed its practices. New rules from the Missouri Supreme Court also have not made a difference in St. Louis, he said. Prosecutors continue to use the grand jury to circumvent the court’s attempt at reform.

Mahaffey isn’t the only voice speaking out against Gardner. The mother of a murder victim told Fox News last night that Gardner’s office kept her in the dark while cutting a plea deal that resulted in only an eight-year sentence, a violation of Missouri victim rights. She also spoke to local CBS affiliate KMOV earlier:

Dr. Shirley Washington-Cobb, whose son Dwight Washington was allegedly murdered on February 15, 2020, told “The Story” that under previous prosecuting attorneys, an eight-year plea deal was considered “absurd” and that the office would have sought a 20-year sentence against suspect Jarmond Johnson that could at most be reduced to 18 years.

“I was told several months ago – in fact, more than told – I was assured by the prosecuting attorney at the time that he felt an eight-year plea deal is absolutely absurd,” she said. “So I said the only part that I would like to participate in happens to be the victim’s impact statement. I went four months without hearing any word.”

However, Washington-Cobb told host Martha MacCallum that after waiting so long for an update from her home in Texas, she decided to call to get a status update so she could arrange a flight and other logistics during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[U]pon that call, which I considered to be just a routine call, I was then instructed by a prosecuting attorney who had taken over the case that [the original sentencing agreement] was not the case at all – that they had accepted a plea deal,” she said.

Involuntary manslaughter — for a man who beat his victim to death? Seriously?

Critics are accusing Gardner of dereliction of duty, the Washington Examiner notes today, and for good reason. One former prosecutor who ran against Gardner in 2017 but stuck around due to her promises for reform says changes have to be made:

More than 90 prosecutors have quit since Gardner was elected in 2017. While some left for better jobs, others said it was the dysfunction that drove them out.

Former prosecutor Patrick Hamacher, who worked for Gardner, recently broke his silence about his ex-boss.

“I’m really concerned about what is going on in that office right now,” he told KSDK, adding that if St. Louis wants to become a safer city, changes must be made at the Circuit Attorney’s Office. …

“At some point, she either needs to go out and ask for help or really do some inward thinking about what she can do better as a prosecutor,” he said. “The city … we’re relying on her to be the circuit attorney.”

That was their first mistake, and the second was giving Gardner another term. Perhaps the city should be looking at ways to recall Gardner from office before her office collapses entirely from her incompetence and neglect.