Updated at 2:46 p.m. Saturday with clarification — St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has been on the job for a little over a year and a half now, and her office has been the subject of some controversy and criticism over the course of that relatively short time period.
Earlier this week, Gardner was the focus of an in-depth piece in the Riverfront Times. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined host Don Marsh for a conversation in light of the recent news coverage, and Marsh started by asking the prosecutor what she thought about the recent description of her office as a “chaotic” one.
“In any transition period when you are a new elected official, taking over an office can be difficult, and transition is difficult and hard for people,” Gardner responded. “So, of course, as [with] any prior prosecutor, there’s going to be transition. People will leave. And some people may say it’s chaos, but I say that’s change.”
She went on to talk with Marsh for 30 minutes, fielding a variety of questions – including the following handful – from him and from listeners who joined the conversation via phone, email and Twitter.
You replaced a woman who’d been in the job a long, long time. Does that make it more difficult for you – a lot of Jennifer Joyce’s staff [still] in place?
“I worked under Jennifer Joyce, and I appreciated the opportunity to work under Ms. Joyce. And when I was there it was the same thing – people would talk about the circuit attorney and her efforts to push the office forward. The same thing with me – I mean, taking the office, when you have a progressive, reform-minded prosecutor and this time you have individuals who have been in the office that may say, ‘Hey, I wanted to do something else,’ or ‘I do not support those reform efforts.’ And I share in, one, I understand why people left if they left because they wanted to go somewhere else [or] they did not share in the vision of the office. But I respect their ability to make their choice.”
According to the Riverfront Times, people who talked … several [anonymous colleagues] said that the vision was not communicated very well – that you were in fact standoffish to the people when you got there.
“Well of course I’m going to disagree with that, and of course I can’t speak to what other individuals may think about me who are no longer there. But I know that I have an open-door policy, and I had an open-door policy from day one.”
Where are you now with regard to staffing?
“We are about 138 total people, we have about 16 positions open. I think it’s like six attorney positions. So we are looking to fill those positions and other positions, but right now we are relatively stable.”
How is your style different from Jennifer Joyce’s?
“I think it’s not fair to characterize one circuit attorney versus the other. … My tenure in the office is totally different from Jennifer Joyce’s. Right now the prosecutor in this period of time, post-Ferguson, we’re dealing with a lot of different issues. And we have to look at how we have to build trust with the community so that we can address violent crime. And those are the issues that we are dealing with at this most important crossroads, where we know mass incarceration – the effects of mass incarceration – we have to deal with those effects, and we have to take responsibility to understand our job to reduce the effects of mass incarceration. And this system was not created overnight. It was created over hundreds of years. And so we are stuck with the system that people want change – I ran on change – and that’s what we’re pushing for. … The criminal-justice system is unfair, and we have to promote fairness and justice for everyone inside that courtroom.”
There is this group called Close the Workhouse, which has been active recently, and basically they’re saying you could prosecute less.
“Well, that’s a good question. We are doing that. I’ve looked at [their] report, and the report basically makes recommendations to say basically you should not be holding people in the Workhouse for low-level crimes as well as for the lack of the ability to pay. Well, in most misdemeanors they are victimless and it’s not a public-safety risk – we are not requiring warrants, they’re not being held. So those are not individuals in the Workhouse. At the same time, we have also implemented lower-level felonies [in which] we are actually going to give them summonses. We’re not going to have arrest warrants. So we are doing the work that in that report I think was kind of in some instances a little misguided in terms of the work that we’re doing. And if you truly support reducing the amount of people in the Workhouse, then we need to look at how we fund policies that fund diversion programs.”
Do you support the Bail Project ... for people who are in the Workhouse who don’t have the money to meet bail?
Producer's note: The original question's description of the Bail Project was incorrect in describing it as a loan/lending system. The Bail Project is a national nonprofit organization that uses money from donors and grants to operate a large, revolving bail fund. Clients are under no obligation to pay or return money that the Bail Project spends.
“Absolutely. I support any efforts to give people the opportunity to make bond and bail. But at the same time I would love to sit down with the people who wrote this report … we want to come up with a solution to address the complex conversation of overhauling the bail bond process. It’s a very complex situation.”
Your relationship with the police department and this whole [exclusion] list thing: Where does that stand right now?
“Right now you know I really can’t go into details about the exclusion list. But police integrity [is a] critical component of a fair and just criminal-justice system, and as prosecutors, we have to make sure we continue to have that credibility with law-enforcement officers. Basically this list was created, and given by the demands of Commander [Michael] Sack – we all know that. But I can’t go into the explicit details. But I mean, we have to make sure that the relationships with the police and prosecutors are on board – I’ve talked with the chief and we agree to work together. But at the same time, as prosecutors, the credibility of police officers is crucial for fairness and justice, and we have to make sure we continue to work with them – but at the same time you have to hold them accountable.”
Do you [still] think you should have prosecuted that [former Gov. Eric Greitens] case?
"I stand with us bringing charges, I stand with the way my team handled the case, and I stand with how it ended up. It was a tough case, but we did our job. And I think we have to hold everyone accountable, and unfortunately it had to be the former governor."
Would you do anything differently [in the Greitens case]?
Listen to the full conversation:
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Caitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.