Gov. Parson taps former federal prosecutor Gabriel Gore as new St. Louis circuit attorney
Updated at 2:25 p.m. May 19 with comments from Gore and other leaders
Gov. Mike Parson selected Gabriel Gore, a former federal prosecutor and current private practice lawyer, to be the next St. Louis circuit attorney.
“My sole focus is to begin building a circuit attorney’s office that is high performing and can provide the level of justice and public safety that the citizens of St. Louis deserve,” Gore said at a press conference Friday at the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Gore, 54, is a partner at the Dowd Bennett law firm in St. Louis. He previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney, a law clerk for federal Appeals Court Judge John Gibson and an assistant special counsel for the investigation of the FBI raid in Waco.
Parson announced his choice to succeed Kim Gardner on Friday in St. Louis. Gardner, who was facing possible ouster by the Missouri attorney general, unexpectedly moved up her planned June 1 resignation and left the office earlier this week.
In 2014, then-Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Gore to the Ferguson Commission — which came up with a host of policy recommendations in response to a Ferguson police officer fatally shooting Michael Brown and subsequent calls for change. Gov. Jay Nixon picked Gore to serve on the Missouri State University Board of Governors in 2015.
“I've sought out opportunities to serve the community,” Gore said. “And you won't find any connection to me pursuing anything other than things that I thought were important for the community. That's what I'm doing here. That is my only goal and focus in pursuing this. And I think that my work will speak for itself.”
Parson said: “Mr. Gore has a tall task ahead of him. But we’re confident that he’s the right man at the right time to do right by the people of St. Louis.”
One of the main goals for Gore will be recruiting people to work for his office — especially after staffers left constantly during Gardner’s tenure. He also said cooperating with federal and regional prosecutors would be a majority priority.
“As I approach this task, I will start with a focus on two priorities,” Gore said. “One, I will focus on building a staff of attorneys and professionals who can work here in the circuit attorney's office and have fulfilling careers doing this important work to serve the community they live in. Secondly, I am going to really focus on building the collaborative relationships that are integral to the success of this office.”
Several state and city elected officials who were at Gore’s press conference praised Parson’s decision, including St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
“I'm happy that the governor kept his word and listened to the community,” Jones said. “To come in, in a week's time and listen to so many different constituency groups says a lot about our governor's character.”
Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, also said Parson made a good choice.
“I've heard astoundingly good things about him for the last several weeks, he has a lot of good people in his corner,” Plocher said. “And a lot of faith was bestowed upon him by very, very well-respected people in the community.”
Parson crosses party lines
Although he’s a Republican, Parson was widely expected to select a Democrat to succeed Gardner. St. Louis is heavily Democratic, and any GOP appointee would likely have lost a bid for a full, four-year term next year.
A number of African American faith leaders wanted Parson to pick a Black person to serve as circuit attorney. Gardner was the first Black woman to serve in the position, and the city of St. Louis is split relatively evenly between white and African American residents.
Parson, though, said at the press conference that he didn’t know that Gore was a Democrat.
Federal Election Commission filings show that Gore has donated to Democratic candidates and groups over the past few years. And several high-profile former Democratic officials, including Nixon, work at Dowd Bennett.
“What his political affiliations are, I'm telling you, it doesn't matter to me,” Parson said. “That wasn't what the choice was based on. Whether he ran again is not what this appointment was based on. Look, we need to bring stability to St. Louis City. There's no question about it.”
Democratic state Reps. Sarah Unsicker of St. Louis County and Steve Butz of St. Louis said they were pleased Parson chose to cross party lines in making his selection.
“It’s not a partisan office, it shouldn't be a partisan issue,” Unsicker said. “But at the same time, St. Louis is a very Democratic city. So I am glad that it is going to be somebody who hopefully aligns with the wishes of St. Louis voters."
Added Butz: “I think it's important that he be a Democrat.”
Gore said on Friday that he’s not sure if he’ll be a candidate for a full term next year. Already, attorney David Mueller and former Alderman Michael Gras have said they would run for the post.
“That's not something I'm focused on right now," Gore said. "My sole focus right now is starting to work to build a high-performing circuit attorney's office. That is essential work. The question of whether I'll run or not is something I'll consider.”
Gore will face a challenge in stabilizing an office that’s been mired in a crisis for some time. Gardner faced immense criticism for being unable to hire and retain staff, which meant that the remaining assistant circuit attorneys handled an unmanageable number of cases.
Bailey and regional prosecutors have pledged to help. They include St. Charles County Prosecutor Joe McCulloch, who said stabilizing the circuit attorney’s office was a concern for the entire region.
“We have an idea of how bad it is down at the circuit attorney's office, but that's us looking from the outside in,” McCulloch said. “It really won't be determined until we're on the inside.”
McCulloch said he’s hoping that some former circuit attorney staff members return to help.
“I think you're going to see a lot of former prosecutors go back there and allow the ship to get righted quicker than we think,” he said.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell said regional prosecutors can help get the circuit attorney’s warrant office up and running again. But he said that getting the office staffed is going to be a major priority to bring about permanent stability.
“We can help in the short term,” Bell said. “We get the most cases in the region because we're the largest jurisdiction, and St. Charles has their fair share. I go back to what I said: ‘Staffing, staffing, staffing.’ But in the meantime, we absolutely can help.”
Bell also said he’s hoping that the circuit attorney office crisis prompts regional prosecutors to work together on a more permanent basis.
“We have to think regionally,” Bell said. “Criminals, those who are inclined to commit serious and violent offenses are not going to adhere to magical boundaries that we've drawn up. And so we have to respond in kind. We have to work together. We have to share information. We have to do everything that we can to look at this problem regionally and work together to address the issue of public safety.”
More outside help
Greater St. Louis Inc. CEO Jason Hall said Gore's appointment marks “a new day in the city of St. Louis” and optimism for the future of business throughout the region.
But, he adds, it will take people coming together to enact meaningful change.
“We all have to come together to support this new circuit attorney in turning this office around, giving justice to victims, and making our city safer,” he said. “The public and private sector have to work together to solve these problems. That creates confidence that helps us welcome new people and new investment to our city and to our region — and that's where it matters.”
Hall said there are several law firms in town who have indicated they’re willing to help through staffing and recruiting workers to the new circuit attorney’s office.
Dowd Bennett’s founding partners, Jim Bennett and Ed Dowd, touted Gore’s commitment to the community as a decadeslong resident of the city.
In addition to his service on the Ferguson Commission and Missouri State board, they said Gore was a co-founder of the KIPP St. Louis Charter School and served on its board for more than 10 years.
He was also a member of the St. Louis Public Library board and currently serves on the Forest Park Forever board. At the law firm, he chaired its diversity committee.
“Gabe is a natural leader who gets things done,” Bennett said.
Reporters Brian Munoz and Lilley Halloran contributed to this story