St. Louis, MO – More than 65 prosecutors have left the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, an over 100% turnover rate, since Kimberly Gardner took over two-and-a-half years ago.
Some attorneys quit and others were fired, but they took with them a combined 470 years of prosecutorial experience, leaving the office in really bad shape, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Former staffers said the office was suffering from low morale and a shortage of legal wisdom and is in a state of total dysfunction.
“It’s not normal to lose that many people,” former Assistant Circuit Attorney Jeff Ernst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Ernst left the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to join his brother in private practice in 2018.
“The real concern is you don’t have the people that are entrenched that can teach the people fresh out of law school how to be prosecutors,” he warned.
Less than 15 of the prosecutors who worked for former Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce still work under Gardner and the result has been a mess, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Critics have said that the high turnover rates mean that criminal cases are frequently re-assigned to overworked, under-experienced prosecutors.
As a result, the less experienced attorneys frequently fail to prep cases the best way, and as a result, major cases are frequently dismissed shortly before they are due to go to trial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
They claim the mass exodus of experience from the office has resulted in fewer convictions and more case dismissals.
Pace University law professor Bennett L. Gershman, a former Manhattan prosecutor, called Gardner’s turnover rate “astonishing.”
Gershman said that enthusiastic new hires with goals of serving justice in their community don’t usually leave such plum positions so quickly.
“That has a drastic, drastic impact on the system,” he said.
Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys President Tim Lohmar, who is also the St. Charles County Prosecutor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that such huge staff upheavals make it hard to maintain momentum in prosecuting cases.
Lohmar also pointed out that the turnover put more pressure on the crime victims that had to deal with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that data from the 22nd Circuit Court showed the dismissal rate of felony cases had climbed to the highest it has been in 10 years in the 32 months that Gardner has been in office.
“Quite honestly, the office is made up of rookies and that’s why I think the win rate is so bad,” former Jefferson County Prosecutor Terry Niehoff said.
About half of the attorneys who left the Circuit Attorney’s Office did so within a year after Gardner took over, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“Some people want to go through it with me, and some do not,” she told the newspaper in 2017. “Most of those people who left, I’m not missing them.”
The new prosecutor tried to claim the defectors had all been loyal to her predecessor and resistant to her reforms, but the resignations have continued to present day.
Support staff have been resigning left and right, too, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Gardner’s second chief of staff just quit and she is on her second first assistant and her fourth chief trial assistant since she began.
But she has kept up a brave face in public and continued to repeat her mantra about restoring the community’s faith in the system, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“We cannot arrest or prosecute our way out of this situation,” she has repeatedly said.
Gardner has insisted that her diversion programs have resulted in fewer people in jail and less crime, and she bragged about holding police officers accountable, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Statistics about violent crime rates, however, disputed Gardner’s assertions and showed that homicides, robberies, and shootings were up.
Rape was the only violent crime that showed a significant statistical reduction, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.