ST. LOUIS— A recent preliminary hearing was held in the city’s civil courts building downtown for St. Louis’ first Black Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner. The court proceedings stem from a lawsuit filed by Missouri’s Attorney General Andrew Bailey to remove Ms. Gardner from office. Mr. Bailey based his lawsuit on allegations that Atty. Gardner allegedly mismanaged her office and duties as the Circuit Attorney.
Many supporters and activists gathered outside on the court steps where the April 18 hearing was held chanting “keep your hands off Kim Gardner, this is not a slave state.” Others filled the courtroom watching a tennis-like match between the team of attorneys representing both Atty. Gardner and Missouri AG Bailey.
For approximately five hours they argued back and forth on whether the “motion to dismiss” filed by Atty. Gardner was warranted. The state’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Crane insisted Atty. Gardner willfully neglected her responsibilities to her staff and the community she served.
Ms. Gardner’s defense attorney, Jonathan Sternberg, refuted Atty. Crane’s argument and asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the attorney general. He said, “It’s a poorly considered political move that doesn’t remotely state a lawful claim for Ms. Gardner’s ouster under the well-established law of Missouri.
The only authority that the attorney general has evoked is the removal of a public officer for willful or fraudulent violation of public duty or willful neglect of public duty. Of which he has to show that Ms. Gardner intentionally failed or refused a duty … and has come nowhere close to proving ‘willful neglect,’” Atty. Sternberg said.
In theseven years since being in office, Atty. Gardner has had to endure constant harassment, slander, threats, lies, and controversy in an attempt to discredit her. The most recent event, which gave reason for AG Bailey to push for her removal, was when a White teenage girl from Nashville lost her legs in a car crash in downtown St. Louis caused by Daniel Riley, a Black man who was out of jail on bond. Even though Atty. Gardner requested the bond to be revoked, a judge overruled her request and let Mr. Riley out of jail despite him having violated his bonds before.
While out of jail, Mr. Riley was driving recklessly when he hit a parked car that pinned the young teen between them, causing her to lose her legs. The controversy surrounding Atty. Gardner in this incident is that she is accused of not keeping Mr. Riley behind bars when, in fact, it was the judge who let the young man out.
“The attempt to remove Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, an elected official, puts Democracy at risk and could have long-term consequences for African Americans beyond St. Louis, Missouri,” said James Tucker, community activist and supporter.
Atty. Gardner refuses to break under the pressures and attacks from those who are petitioning for her removal from office. Despite the tremendous support from voters who reelected her with more than 74 percent of the votes, Atty. Gardner is still fighting to prove herself qualified to stay in her position.
At the time of her first election, Atty. Gardner ran on a platform of reform and to bring equal justice under the law. She vowed to give first-time non-violent offenders a second chance by participating in training programs to help better their lives. That method of handling crime has not been received well, nor accepted by the lawmakers of Missouri.
Mr. Anthony Bell, the 3rd Ward committeeman, told The Final Call: “She got this program going on where it’s keeping young and old folks out of prison. By giving them an opportunity to change their ways. When you’re not feeding the prison system in this country, you are stepping on a whole lot of toes. Because this is what they feed off of, by keeping you incarcerated and turning you into criminals, and so this young lady Kim, to me the bottom line is that she is affecting the political agenda in this country in many ways.”
Others agree that her focus on the incarcerated is causing a stir.
Zaki Baruti, president/general of the Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO), said these attacks on Atty. Kim Gardner are unprecedented and is an attack on the people. “Her system of social reform is changing what has been historically their way to keep us incarcerated, but she’s changing that for all of us and setting the example here,” he said.
Missouri Court of Appeals Judge John Torbitzky has scheduled the trial for Monday, Sept. 25.