Judge orders Gardner, assistant to face contempt of court for no-shows in shooting case
A St. Louis judge has ruled that Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and an assistant must face allegations of indirect contempt of court after prosecutors failed to show up for two hearings in a felony case.
“The circuit attorney’s office appears to be a rudderless ship of chaos,” Judge Michael Noble said Thursday in issuing his order. “There is sufficient evidence of disdain and disrespect for the judicial process to determine that both Ms. Gardner and Mr. Desilets’ conduct support a finding of indirect criminal contempt.”
Christopher Desiltes is the assistant circuit attorney assigned to the case of Steven Vincent Jr., who faces several felony charges in an October 2020 shooting that wounded an 11-year-old.
Desilets first did not appear at what was supposed to be the opening day of trial on April 10. He told Noble that he was getting medical treatment after aggravating a knee injury. Another attorney in the prosecutor’s office continued the case to April 24 on Desilets’ behalf.
On that day, Desilets said, he was double-booked and made the decision to be in a different courtroom in front of a different judge. By the time he made it to Noble’s courtroom, the door was locked – the judge had already wrapped up court for the morning.
“My foul-up here, I beg the court’s pardon, is not that I was late, but that I failed to let you know ahead of time,” Desilets said.
Noble noted in his order that Desilets is handling more than 100 felony cases, and that Gardner has done nothing to help her attorneys manage the workload.
“Any prudent practitioner would expect such a caseload to create countless irreconcilable conflicts,” the judge said. “It appears that Ms. Gardner has a complete indifference to, and a conscious disregard of, the judicial process.”
Gardner was not in court for Thursday’s proceedings, sending another assistant to represent the office. Michael Downey, a lawyer representing Gardner personally, was also there.
Noble did not give Downey much of a chance to speak, saying he was not there representing the office. In documents filed just before the proceeding, Downey wrote that no one should be held in contempt because Desilets’ failure to appear on April 24 “was not due to the intentional [willfully disobedient] conduct of Ms. Gardner or anyone else in the CAO.”
Noble set the case for a hearing on May 30, when a special prosecutor will present the evidence. Desilets will have the right to hire his own attorney, while Downey will likely continue to represent Gardner.
Thursday’s proceedings marked the second time Gardner had faced being found in contempt this week. On Monday, Circuit Judge Scott Millikan ruled that the failure of another assistant to show up for a murder trial was not deliberate misconduct. But Millikan also made it clear that he expected the office to get its staffing issues fixed.
“I’m trying to bring order to this circuit,” he said.
Gardner is under fire at the state level as well. Attorney General Andrew Bailey has launched legal proceedings to remove her from office for willfully neglecting her duties as circuit attorney – a judge is considering whether to throw that case out. There is an effort to block her from running again if Bailey is successful. And pending legislation would allow Gov. Mike Parson to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee violent crimes in St. Louis and other cities.